Love, laughter and laudations filled Archbishop Harry Flynn’s golden jubilee celebration of his ordination to the priesthood.
Liturgical dancers praised God as they moved to the beat of African, Spanish and Irish rhythms during the opening Mass May 26 in Our Lady of Victory Chapel at St. Catherine University, which planned and sponsored the celebration with the University of St. Thomas.
Led by the angelic voice of Mary True, St. Catherine’s liturgy and music director, the accompanying choir members and instrumentalists included students, alums, Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, composers David Haas and Father Jan Michael Joncas, a St. Thomas professor.
During the homily, Father Dennis Dease, St. Thomas president, cited three traits that come to his mind when speaking about Archbishop Flynn: “a man of prayer, a great preacher and a caring and courageous shepherd.”
His prayer life shows in “his charity toward all and his joyful demeanor,” he said. When preaching, the archbishop never tires of sharing Jesus’ message that “each and every one of us is genuinely and profoundly loved by God.”
Father Dease added that Archbishop Flynn, while serving as bishop in Lafayette, La., and then as archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis, was a courageous and caring shepherd who faced the challenges of racism, capital punishment and sexual abuse.
“He has never backed down when he knew what the Gospel demanded,” he said. Addressing Archbishop Flynn, he added, “You have said that the church must speak for the disenfranchised, or we are not doing what Christ wants.”
Father Dease closed the homily with an Irish proverb and blessing that prompted joyous laughter: “If your dog is fat, you aren’t getting enough exercise. May your dog be forever lean and fit and may you be always robust in reminding us that God loves each and every one of us and we need to embrace that love.”
The celebration continued with a dinner in Coeur de Catherine for about 300 people, as musicians played Irish tunes in honor of the archbishop’s heritage and guests shared stories about the man they came to honor.
Laura Nelson, a 2009 St. Kate’s alum who served as acolyte for the Mass, said she has never met a man like Archbishop Flynn, who is so interested in others.
“He does remember every face, every name, every story,” she said. “He’s only met me five or six times . . . and I walked in today and he said, ‘Hello Laura, it’s so nice to see you again, and how is your sister Sarah? She’s a student here right?’”
Premier Banks executive vice president Andrew Nath and his wife, Katie, said they respect the archbishop’s work and pastoral care for the archdiocese.
Katie said, “When I think of him, I think of the title of his [former column] in The Catholic Spirit, ‘Come Lord Jesus.’ It reminds us of what we need at the core of ourselves.”
Sister Andrea Lee, president of St. Catherine University, brought tears to many eyes as she took the podium to praise Archbishop Flynn’s leadership of both universities and his personal kindness to herself and her adopted son, Lahens Lee-St. Fleur, who was a principal liturgical dancer at the earlier Mass.
“Among many personal stories I could share, consider a tired archbishop,” she said. “That morning, home from a long trip and sleepless night, not only confirming my son that evening, but shopping and cooking and serving us and my son’s young family. Putting down . . . a resplendent feast, including a small homemade dish of mac and cheese, remembering, as he did, that a finicky 4-year-old would, tonight, be seated at the archbishop’s table.”
Sister Andrea — a member of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary — said most of what she knows about picking her battles she learned from Archbishop Flynn.
He is an entertaining storyteller who laughs heartily at his own jokes, she added. He can cook for 15 people and still relax and have a drink with his guests.
“We could solve the financial problems of the archdiocese, as well as those of St. Thomas and St. Kate’s, if we could only get him his own show on the food network,” she quipped.
In honor of his 50th anniversary of ordination, both St. Kate’s and St. Thomas will designate a Flynn Scholar, a Catholic high school graduate with high academic ability and significant financial need to receive a full financial scholarship.
When the archbishop finally had an opportunity to speak, he said he wondered what Sister Andrea and Father Dease might do for his 25th anniversary as a bishop, which he will celebrate in 2011.
“You have another year to get ready,” he said to raucous laughter.
He reminisced about how he was a “bigoted New Yorker,” who refused to join the Franciscan order with three of his high school classmates because “they can send you anywhere.” So he became a diocesan priest in Albany, N.Y.
All three classmates never left New York, while Archbishop Flynn was sent to Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Maryland, then back to Albany, then to Louisiana as bishop and to Minnesota as archbishop.
“We look at the hand of God in our lives and I was able to say to a gathering [of priests] that Archbishop [John] Nienstedt hosted after I retired: ‘I’ve fallen in love with all of you and . . . I know you have fallen in love with me,” Archbishop Flynn said.
“I can say that about God’s wonderful people, those at St. Catherine’s, those at St. Thomas, the wonderful Sisters of St. Joseph, I have been united with the Heart of Mary Sisters and I have fallen in love with all of you.” Catholic Spirit