Originally published about 27 May 2010
On the occasion of his 50th anniversary to the priesthood, The Catholic Spirit recently interviewed Archbishop Emeritus Harry Flynn at his home near Northfield.
On his ordination day
In 1960, preparation for ordination was different than it is today, Archbishop Flynn said. The soon-to-be priests participated in a retreat that didn’t end until the morning of ordination, when they boarded buses for the cathedral in Albany, N.Y.
That night, following the ceremony, the new priests stayed overnight in the rectory, where they celebrated their first Mass the next day and ate together.
At the ordination ceremony, “I remember vividly putting my hands in the hands of Bishop [William] Scully, and he asked me in Latin whether or not I promised him obedience and respect, and the answer was ‘promitto’ — ‘I promise,’” Archbishop Flynn recalled. “I couldn’t help but think to myself, ‘I wonder where this promise is going to take me.’”
That promise has led to five decades of ministry as a high school teacher, parish pastor, rector of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., bishop of Lafayette, La., and archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
On priestly ministry
‘My cup of tea’
Of all the experiences that have come with being a priest, Archbishop Flynn — who has ministered as a pastor, seminary rector, bishop and archbishop — said he gets the most joy from serving others and offering pastoral care.
“I think anyone who worked with me closely would be able to validate this: Administration is not my cup of tea,” he said. “Pastoring is my cup of tea. That’s what I’ve enjoyed the most.”
Advice for a happy vocation
Asked what advice he has for others to be happy in their vocation — whether to the priesthood, religious life, marriage or single life — Archbishop Flynn said, “One needs to be centered.”
“I’ve tried to center my life and to have it centered in the Lord, with the understanding that’s it’s about service to others,” he said.
“When one is centered, when one feels frustration coming on, one can just laugh at it and say this is just part of life. I think that has been a saving factor.
“I came from parents and a family who were graced and gifted with a wonderful sense of humor. My mother died when I was 12 and my father when I was 6. I remember my mother laughed easily. With both of them, I have memories of laughter in our home. And then, after my mother died, I went to live with my father’s family — a large family. And there was great laughter among them.
“So, a sense of humor coupled with centeredness as to what we are all about, I think that produces a happy person.”
On life in retirement
Archbishop Flynn officially retired on May 2, 2008, but he remains busy ministering throughout the archdiocese.
“I do pretty much everything now that I enjoyed as a bishop, but none of the things that I didn’t enjoy,” he said. “It’s so nice not to have an afternoon of appointments for planning and visioning or meetings concerning finances. Those things aren’t part of my life anymore.”
He continues to visit parishes, lead retreats and speak to a variety of groups.
He also presides occasionally at confirmations. “I’m most happy to do that because it’s meeting young people at a very important part of their lives [and I am] able to preach words of encouragement to them.”
On May 13, the archbishop visited DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis for its Founder’s Day celebration.
“I looked at those students — variations of nationality, variations of races — and I thought this is what the church is all about,” Archbishop Flynn said. “All [were] seemingly reverencing each other for who each of them is — a child of God. To me, this is what the church is all about, and we always need to keep that in the forefront, coupled at the same time with preaching the Gospel that Jesus gave to us.”
‘Being still before God’
Outside of Mass, Archbishop Flynn said he prays the Divine Office, keeping in mind the many prayer requests he receives. He also enjoys quiet prayer, although a busy schedule prevents him from having as much prayer time as he would like.
“This morning,” he said May 13, “someone came up to me and asked me for prayers because that person is in the last stages of lung cancer and there is nothing more that can be done for him.
“When I say to someone, ‘I’ll pray for you,’ it’s not just a saying. I mention their names every day in the Divine Office and ask God to take care of them or heal them, or bring all of that challenge to a happy conclusion and give them the courage and grace that they need.
“I also enjoy immensely the prayer of quiet, which I have always found nourishing and invigorating and giving me the opportunity to receive God’s love. I try to do that every day. It’s being still before God, knowing that God is God. It’s quieting the heart and not asking for anything or saying anything, but simply being still.”
‘I love history’
Archbishop Flynn, who has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English, is an avid reader. The Catholic Spirit asked him what he is currently reading.
“I love history,” he said. “Right now I’m reading the definitive biography of the Queen Mother of England [“Behind Palace Doors”]. I just finished “This Republic of Suffering” by [Drew Gilpin Faust,] the first woman president of Harvard University who is a Civil War expert. I didn’t have any realization of the horrific suffering in the Civil War as I did when I read that book.”Catholic Spirit