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The Rev. Billy Graham did it. Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston did it. Now Monsignor Jerome Sullivan is going to do it.

The difference is that Graham and Law were immediately recognizable when they stepped to the rostrum to offer the morning prayer at a session of the House of Representatives.

As pastor of St. Mary of the Lake Catholic Church in the Town of Hamburg, Sullivan is perhaps less known. But that does not mean his prayer will be less effective when he offers the invocation for the opening session of the House on Thursday morning.

"I'm excited about it. I consider it an honor," said Sullivan, who has been pastor of the 1,400-family parish for nearly 11 years.

Sullivan has been invited to deliver the prayer, a ritual that formally opens every session of the House, by Rep. Jack Quinn, R-Hamburg, a member of St. Mary of the Lake.

Preparing the prayer, he admits, is challenging because it requires a delicate balancing act.

He is hoping to deliver something resembling "a spiritual state of the union message." The trick is to be inclusive without being bland, he said.

Then again, "it should not be so general that it doesn't say anything."

"I'm sure I will pray that our minds and hearts be open to the marginalized in our country and to people we can easily overlook in the rest of the world," Sullivan said.

The typical House invocation is a single, double-spaced page that runs "in the one to two minute range," he said.

A longtime member of St. Mary of the Lake, Quinn said he invited Sullivan to give the invocation out of respect for his work as a pastor and in recognition of the work he has done at St. Mary of the Lake.

"I wanted to give him an opportunity to experience a little bit of history. I find him to be the kind of man who can offer advice to Congress that might be helpful," said Quinn.

Pointing out that guest chaplains frequently are invited to offer opening prayers for the House, Quinn said it occurred to him to invite Sullivan one day while he was in church.

Sullivan, who earlier served for 10 years as pastor of St. Mary of Sorrows Parish in Buffalo, said he has known Quinn since he became pastor of the Hamburg church.

During his visit to Washington, Sullivan said, he expects to meet the Rev. Daniel P. Coughlin, the first Catholic priest to serve as chaplain of the House, and do some sightseeing that will include a visit to the National Holocaust Museum.

He will be accompanied by his sister and brother-in-law, Mary Jane and Terrence Mescall of Depew.

The real test of Sullivan's spiritual clout will not be how well the representatives pay attention but how they act when the prayer is finished.

That's because his prayer will include an appeal for "an openness of spirt for the legislators -- that they will listen to each other."

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