Pope Francis has raised an Irish Jesuit priest, Father John Sullivan, one step closer to sainthood by authorising a declaration that he lived a life of heroic virtue.

Fr Sullivan who was born in Dublin in 1861 the son of a mixed marriage.

His father, the future Lord Chancellor of Ireland, Sir Edward Sullivan, was a Protestant. His mother, Lady Bessie Josephine Sullivan, was a Catholic.

Fr Sullivan was raised a Protestant but was received into the Catholic Church at the age of 35.

Twelve years later, he was ordained a Jesuit and soon began teaching at Clongowes Wood College near Sallins, Co Kildare, where he spent most of the rest of his life.

He died in 1933 after a lifetime of prayer, asceticism and ministering to the sick and the poor who he used to visit regularly on his bicycle while living in Clongowes.

In 1960 Pope John the Twenty-Third declared him a Servant of God and his remains were transferred from Clongowes to Saint Francis Xavier's Church in Dublin's Gardiner Street.

An official Vatican statement issued this afternoon reveals that last Friday Pope Francis authorised the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints to promulgate decrees on the heroic virtues of eight people including a Chilean bishop and seven Europeans including Father Sullivan.

According to the Vatican, a Decree of Heroic Virtues is a judgment of the Congregation that a Servant of God "lived a life of profound union with God and fidelity to Church teaching".

Its website says that, "theologically, it witnesses to the full flowering of virtue in the person's life, which St. Thomas Aquinas explains occurs when the moral virtues are perfected in their operation by the Gifts of the Holy Spirit".

The next stage in the process would be beatification which would require Vatican approval of a miracle brought about by Fr Sullivan's intercession. After being made "Blessed" the candidate normally requires a second miracle to be attributed to his intercession in order to qualify for sainthood.