Archbishop Harry J. Flynn, 86, is laid to rest at the Cathedral of St. Paul in Minnesota on Sept. 30. Archbishop Flynn was born in Schenectady, graduated from Siena College and was ordained in the Diocese of Albany in 1960. (CNS photos)
Archbishop Harry J. Flynn, 86, is laid to rest at the Cathedral of St. Paul in Minnesota on Sept. 30. Archbishop Flynn was born in Schenectady, graduated from Siena College and was ordained in the Diocese of Albany in 1960. (CNS photos)

It was a marvelous blessing when my former high school teacher, Father Harry J. Flynn, became pastor at my parish, St. Ambrose, in 1981. He brought the same joy and love of life that I remember from my days as a freshman at Catholic Central High School in Troy in 1962. 

At St. Ambrose parish, we worked together on Liturgy of the Word celebrations for children and soon became good friends. Visits just to talk things over gradually turned into monthly spiritual direction sessions. I would bring chocolate chip cookies, and he would make tea. I was introduced to the spiritual classics and never left his office without a book to read. He showed me how to stand still in a deep awareness of God’s love and to quiet my prayer. You do not need to do anything at all — just be open and allow God to work and move in your life.

My new pastor reminded me of my father with his little sayings about the dignity of people. You can’t meet another person without learning something. Look everyone in the eye and ask questions about their life. Then listen. Look for the beauty that chimes out of every individual. His wisdom and his smile were wonderfully familiar.

I began sending Father’s Day cards along with my prayers, thanking him for all the ways he cared for me. He was proud of me and I knew it. Thank you for the kindness of your words on Father’s Day. I am so grateful. If I in any way have increased your faith or if I have been an instrument of the Lord in your life then my whole life as a priest has been worthwhile.

When my youngest child, Mary, was born on July 20, 1985, a large bouquet of red roses was delivered to my hospital room that very afternoon. Impressed that my husband, Jack, had time to order flowers as he headed home to bring our three children to meet their new sister, I opened the card. The familiar handwriting gave it away. The roses were from Father Flynn. Mary was baptized on Sept. 8, the feast of the birth of Mary, the Mother of God. Since she had two godmothers but not a godfather, Father Flynn smiled and said she would always be in his prayers, and he would be her honorary godfather. He has prayed for Mary for 34 years.

After years living nearby, my “substitute father” moved to Lafayette, La., when he was ordained a bishop. I worried that I would no longer feel his guidance, but letters and cards replaced personal visits. Wisdom was saved, re-read, and often copied in my journal. God has blessed you in a special way with His grace. Realize it is a blessing. Realize it is a grace. Ask God every day to protect that, and every day speak of your own poverty and poorness.

When my husband, Jack, suffered a stroke on his 39th birthday, and had surgery for a heart valve replacement at age 42, my spiritual father was with me in prayer through phone calls and written advice. When my children hit a milestone in their faith, he rejoiced. When I returned to work after Jack lost his job, I received a glowing letter of support. His words of wisdom continued to fill my journals. When I began writing for Catholic newspapers and magazines, he reminded me to give him credit since he had been my favorite English and religion teacher.

In October of 1988, I made a trip to Lafayette and spent five days in retreat with Bishop Harry. I carried a homemade apple pie and a jug of cider on the airplane and we had a wonderful visit. I toured the Jesuit retreat house nearby and met his wonderful staff. However, the most precious time for me was the night before I left. Bishop Flynn had returned late from celebrating a confirmation. We unloaded groceries and spread peanut butter on crackers while speaking of the most normal and also deeply spiritual things. God was present in the conversations over peanut butter as well as in the Eucharistic celebrations in his personal chapel.

There were several times when Bishop Flynn returned to this area to give a retreat. We always found a moment to connect. I am grateful to have recorded his presentations. 

In 1994, when Bishop Flynn became Archbishop of St. Paul, Minn., I was honored to attend the Mass of installation and all the celebrations. The cathedral was packed as we listened to his words. But one memory stands out — the action that matched his homily.

After the Mass, the installation festivities concluded with a noisy reception in the hotel.  Dignitaries and colleagues waited to congratulate him. At the end of the party, Archbishop Harry and I entered the hotel elevator. An old woman in ripped clothing approached as the door was closing and shouted his name. My friend stepped off the elevator and I followed. He listened with great attention, giving her as much time and consideration as the other guests. For that moment, she was the most important person in his life. My friend’s actions echoed his wisdom from long ago. Regard each individual with great care. Don’t rush away. Always look for the beauty that chimes out of everyone.

The last few years I’ve had the blessing of visiting him at his home in Schroon Lake. While he was aging and fighting cancer, his joyful Irish smile remained. His concern for others was constant. “How’s your husband doing, and your daughter Mary, how is she?” When you speak with Harry Flynn you are the most important person in the world at that moment. That has never changed. In all the years that I have known him — as a high school teacher, or pastor, as Bishop and Archbishop, retired or active in ministry — his greatest gift was always personal care, a pastoral presence. Whenever you came into his presence, you receive undivided attention and were welcomed with love.

When I called on Sept. 8, Archbishop Harry was back in St. Joseph’s Hospital in St. Paul having returned from his final summer at his beloved lake. I reminded him that more than a teacher, pastor, friend, or spiritual director, he has been my second father and he was deeply loved. I assured him of my prayers and that his ministry would live on in all of us who grew stronger in our faith because of his guidance. And finally with my voice cracking, I repeated back to him the words he wrote to me when my daughter Mary was baptized. Remember that you are loved undividedly and without limitation. All that the Lord requires of us in life is that we do not draw back from His marvelous love. Remain in His love. Always remember God’s love.

 Linda Berkery’s latest book is “Reflections: A Wardrobe of Life Lessons.”