Friday, May 2, 2008

Pioneer Press: "It's a Goood Sad!

An editorial in today's St Paul Pioneer Press


The Most Reverend Harry J. Flynn, archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis, turns 75 years old today. That's the normal retirement age for bishops, which means that today will likely be his last official day on the job serving 650,000-some Catholics in a 12-county area that, according to the archdiocese, includes 218 parishes, two large Catholic universities, seminaries, 16 Catholic high schools, 100 Catholic elementary schools, 37 hospitals, nursing homes, residences for the elderly and Catholic Charities of the Twin Cities. Flynn is to be succeeded by the Rev. John Nienstedt, who has been working beside him for months already.

On Thursday, we stopped by Flynn's offices, across the street from the Cathedral of St. Paul, for a brief, quiet conversation about the lessons of a vocation that took him from New York state down to Lafayette, La., and then up and over to St. Paul. "I've loved every assignment I've ever had," he said, "and every assignment I've ever had, I've left with sadness." The good kind of sadness, we inferred, the kind that's a product of having loved every assignment he's ever had.

In addition to administrative duties, the archbishop's job includes social and spiritual leadership. Flynn was among those the church called on to help repair the damage caused by priests who sexually abused children, and he's been active in addressing poverty and racism.

His pastoral letter on racism in 2003 was one of the highlights of his time here, "not only for the positive response, but also the negative" — which, he said, demonstrated the need for the message. Racism, he said, "is something that will always need attention, like integrity, honesty, integrated human sexuality. Looking at others with reverence will always need attention."

What else has he learned along the way? "As we grow older, we grow in patience and understanding of the complexity of human nature," he said. How has his sense of God changed as the years have gone by? "I probably have a deeper understanding of God as love," he said, "and not simply as judge."

What is he looking forward to in retirement? "I hope to have more time for prayer — because I need it. I need it big-time." Flynn said he's rereading journal entries by the Trappist monk Thomas Merton. "I felt as if I needed to be reminded again of what a more quiet life is."

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