- Associated Press - Sunday, July 3, 2016

GILBERT, Minn. (AP) - When Charles Patrick Flynn was growing up in Ireland, he found a role model in the Catholic priests who mixed with the Irish farmers and showed concern for the common good. The young Flynn soon knew what his calling would be. Now, decades after he was ordained at All Hallows College in Dublin in 1969, the Rev. Charles Flynn, 70, is retiring as pastor of Resurrection Church in Eveleth and St. Joseph’s Church in Gilbert. And he has been named grand marshal of the 2016 Gilbert 3rd of July parade.

Flynn said in an interview at the Gilbert rectory that he looks forward to riding in a classic Cadillac convertible belonging to a friend, Leland Russell. When Flynn’s retirement becomes effective in mid-July, the Rev. Michael Garry, a native of the Brainerd area, becomes pastor in Eveleth and Gilbert. Flynn will make rural Gilbert his home because he likes the Range, he said. “It’s friendly, more ethnic. It reminds me a lot like Ireland,” he said with a smile. “The folk culture, the music, the dancing, the gatherings.” He will fill in for vacations and officiate at funerals and weddings as requested. “There is no real difference between an active priest and a retired one. I will continue to do the same things I liked to do, without administrative duties… no worries about budgets, no meetings and I can still enjoy serving people as I have always done.” He will be on call for emergencies and be available for prison ministry.

Flynn will be honored at receptions from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday at the Gilbert church and from 4 to 7 p.m. Sunday at Margie’s Roosevelt in Eveleth, the Mesabi Daily News (https://bit.ly/294KahO ) reports. The public is invited.

Flynn, born in 1946 in Dowra County, Leitrim, said, “I was totally blessed by growing up amid a wonderful family in rural Ireland, the eldest of six children born to Peter Hugh and Mary Ann (McMorrow) Flynn.” His father ran the family insurance business and 150-acre farm he had inherited from Flynn’s namesake and grandfather, Charles Flynn. The farm had cattle, chickens, geese, turkeys, goats and horses, and they grew potatoes, hay and vegetables. He played Gaelic football, soccer, hurling, rugby and tennis and attended a boarding high school 40 miles from home, “the saddest days of my life, being away from my family.” When he graduated in 1963, his father, “who had other plans for me in the family business, was shocked when I told him I wanted to be a priest and did not speak to me for three days. But regardless, I entered seminary in 1963 when JFK was U.S. president and Pope John Paul XXIII was pope. By the end of 1963, both Johns were dead.”

His father, his grandfather and his grandfather’s brother all died on St. Patrick’s Day, Flynn said. “I’m very sensitive about getting past St. Patrick’s Day each year.” When his father died suddenly in 1966, leaving the family devastated, Flynn became head of the family, but his mother in time became administrator of the farm and insurance business.

“I somehow soldiered onward” to finish the seminary and his uncle Steve, pastor in Two Harbors, Minn., attended Flynn’s ordination. After a traditional Irish wake with his cousins and siblings gathering to say farewell, he flew to Duluth with the Rev. Eamonn Boland, now a retired Eveleth priest. “The Minnesota Highway Patrol picked me up at the bishop’s house and whisked me off to Cloquet where I served for four years.” He would serve at churches in all five deaneries in the Duluth diocese - Cloquet, Duluth, Hibbing, Brainerd and Virginia.

Flynn is proud that he became a United States citizen in 1976. “I’m a Bicentennial baby! I got sworn in by Judge Miles Lord, a very famous citizen.” (Lord was the judge in the case of Reserve Mining Company dumping taconite tailings into Lake Superior.) “It was me and 20 other people, all of them were Vietnamese and none of them spoke English so the exam was pretty low. He was asking me where was the best place to buy tweeds in Ireland and said you probably know English better than I do.”

Flynn’s faith is strong. “It keeps me focused on what the important things are,” he said. “I always keep my eye on the prize - eternal life.” The Golden Rule of treating others as one would wish to be treated, he said, is a “good standard to live by. no matter what faith you’re in. It’s a universal value.”

Flynn said with pride, “Our family has served the diocese for 92 years,” his uncle for 45 years and Flynn for 47. Flynn is happy to have been in northern Minnesota. “But my uncle never told me about the cold and snow,” said Flynn, who will winter in Florida or Arizona.

More than 50 seminarians were in Flynn’s class, and 22 were ordained, with half of them still active. Nearly 90 priests and two bishops came to the Duluth diocese from Ireland. “I lived through all the changes. When I entered seminary in 1963, all the lectures were in Latin. After the first year they changed to English, but the Mass was still in Latin. I could have said the Mass in Latin or English.” Over the years Flynn has witnessed the decline in church attendance, a trend over the country. In the late 1960s as an example, Eveleth had three Catholic churches with two or three services each Sunday. “We’ve gone from seven Masses to one,” he said. “It’s one of the sad things about my life to see the decline in attendance. Back then 70, 80, 90 percent of Catholics attended every week. Now a lot of people don’t even go to church on Easter.”

There were 150 priests in the diocese when Flynn was first ordained; now it’s fewer than 45. “That’s a huge change in the numbers. When I first became a priest, we had 30 Irish-born priests in the diocese, now we have two. They’ll have one when I retire. I’m the last of the All Hallows line.”

But Flynn talked of a hopeful future. “I think it’s leveling off. We have had a lot of good, young priests in the last five years. There was a split between the young and the old priests. Now I don’t see that happening. We get along well among the clergy. They’re all very pastoral. I see good things happening with young people.” But, he said, “there’s a big, big gap with non-practicers from age 30 to 60. That’s the group that has stopped practicing for the most part. They call themselves Catholic, but they’ve grown up with their own version. That they don’t need to come to church. After the 1960s and ‘70s, they grew up with a very laissez-faire theology, that they don’t need to be committed to anything. Maybe we did a very poor job of teaching them the true faith.”

Now young people “are getting a better version of the faith from our catechists and the teachers,” he said. “I have a lot of hope for them that they will practice where the previous generation has not.”

As Flynn reflected on his years in the priesthood, he talked about the changes in how people treat the death of a loved one, and how he recommends that people have their wishes expressed in writing. Sometimes, he said sadly, “A big part of being a human is honoring their dead. All of a sudden they don’t have funerals at all or just a celebration of life. It’s a sad, sad thing, almost a betrayal of what they should be standing for. They should be standing up for the values that are eternal. It’s one of the worst things going on in our society.”


Information from: Mesabi Daily News, https://www.virginiamn.com

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