Sullivan was born in Sedalia and moved to St. Louis, Missouri at the age of 13. He attended parochial schools in Sedalia and St. Louis and graduated from Saint Louis University in 1918. During World War I he enlisted in the Army and served as a private in the infantry. He received his law degree from Saint Louis University School of Law in 1922 and began working in private practice. He also became active in state and local politics.
From 1936 to 1938 he served as associate city counselor in St. Louis and from 1938 to 1940 he served as secretary to Mayor Bernard F. Dickmann. In 1940 he was elected to Congress. He was defeated in a bid for re-election in 1942, but was again elected to Congress in 1944. He was again defeated in 1946, but made another come-back in 1948. In 1950 he was re-elected. He died January 29, 1951 and was buried at Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis. In 1952 his widow Leonor Sullivan was elected to Congress and served until her retirement in 1976.