Later today, we will gather in the Cathedral for the Funeral Mass of Bishop Tom Flynn. May he rest in peace.
He was bishop of Achonry for close on thirty one years and I was just thinking he must have covered close on a million miles during that time. Miles around the diocese and beyond in response to the call received to be the Shepherd – the good shepherd, who leaves not the flock unattended.
I first met him in September 1976 when I went to St Nathy’s as a First Year pupil. He was President of the College and worked there with ten or eleven other priests and lay teachers. It was, at that time, an all-boys school – boarding as well as “Day-Boys”. I fitted into the latter group. I was happy to go home in the evenings but, happy too, to spend a few hours there during the day.
Towards the end of the year (1976) it was announced that Fr Flynn was to be the new bishop of Achonry. He replaced Bishop James Fergus who had been our bishop from 1947. He had retired the previous St Patrick’s Day but continued as bishop until a successor was appointed. It seemed strange to know a man who was becoming a bishop and, though I can’t say I knew him well, I liked him as a President.
The students of the college pooled resources and contributed towards his Bishop’s Ring. I recall it being presented to him and feeling happy that we had a part to play in something that would journey with him. The ring had a purple stone and, in later years, bishops opted for a more plain style of ring but someone pointed out to me that Tom wore the other ring at many of our Ordinations. It was probably his way of acknowledging the gift we had been part of.
I recall him coming out home to buy a car from my father. It was a Peugeot 304 (SDI 245 – the registration as far as I remember) and he remained a customer and (more importantly) friend of my family from that day on. I was grateful to him for that too ….
The parishes of the diocese were invited to submit names of people who might like to attend the Ordination. I put my name in a box in the porch of Cloonloo Church. I recall Fr Charlie Doherty sending me to collect it from the porch at the end of Mass so that the “raffle” could take place. I was serving Mass that Sunday. My name was drawn. I was shocked and happy – never too lucky in raffles – but have reason to believe now, I might have been the only name in the box!! That said, I was happy to be there and sat in the Cathedral on February 20th, 1977 as Fr Flynn became our bishop.
In 1981, I approached him about becoming a priest and he welcomed me and assured me of his support. In fairness, I never felt far removed from that support. Six years later, he came to Gurteen to ordain me and, to quote my father that day, it was “my happiest day ever”. There seemed something homely about it all. It was at home of course but, maybe more than that, we all seemed to know one another.
There were a lot of ordinations. I did a rough count yesterday and think Bishop Tom ordained thirty-one priests for the diocese during his time (others too – but thirty-one for the diocese) so you could say, on average, one a year. During the years some have died or moved to other places in life but today I think twenty-two of the priests working in Achonry Diocese have been ordained by Bishop Tom. The work of his hands – the “laying on” of his hands are, and please God, will be visible for some time to come.
He put a lot into it – certainly when able to do so. He had a special awareness around Confirmation in a parish and used to visit the schools in preparation for the day. Later that day, he’d meet the teachers after school, quite often for a meal and that night he’d meet the parents of the Confirmation classes in a local hall or venue. It was a full day’s visitation and he seemed to take it in his stride. Sometimes tiredness took its toll (on the priests more than Tom) and there’s a lovely story of Tom being in the middle of his “talk” when the Parish Priest who had obviously fallen asleep behind him, stretched and said “I think we’ll put on the kettle” – much to the amusement of the gathered parents and, in fairness, to Bishop Tom.
One of the things I liked about him was his availability to people, not least in times of tragedy. How many homes he must have visited over the years where there was a sudden or tragic death – where parents grieved and communities wondered. He seemed to be there with people at such times.
He had his share of ill-health but seemed to bounce back with an energy that was obvious. Place mattered to him and I think Ballaghaderreen and its surrounds were central players in his story. I’m sure he had dreams for the place that were not fully realised but efforts towards their completion were certainly part of his mission. “Developing The West Together” was one of his dreams and, for all of us, that dream continues. We live in hope and we hope with faith!
I had visited Bishop Tom a few times in the Nursing Home and he was always very welcoming – more welcoming than his condition would have allowed. He certainly grew frail but his voice remained clear. “Ah how are you at all?” That was his usual greeting – often followed by a deafening silence!! In fairness, he wasn’t always the easiest to sustain conversation with. It would start with such enthusiasm but then wilt a little! I think anyone who knows him – knew him – can identify with that.
Doubtless, like all of us, had he the chance to re-visit moments and approach them in a different way, it’s a chance he’d welcome. Overall though, in the million miles travelled, he journeyed with good purpose and sought to make a difference. He was happy to step back from it and entrust the work to Bishop Brendan and others.
“How are things in Kilmovee?” he asked me the last time I met him. I shared a few bits with him but I knew the question was more an acknowledgement of who and where I was than a desire to update his files under “Kilmovee”!! I’m glad I met him though – I know many of our priests visited him and I’m sure, though most likely he didn’t say it, he was happy to know he remained in our thoughts. I asked him if there was anything he wanted “not a thing”, he replied. That seemed to be the way with him – I’m sure he knew the days were shortening and his needs, from a material vantage point were few – it’s likely he was circling the wagons around his Spirit – I feel confident his prayers were heard.
“Hope House” was something he was very proud of. I don’t know if he had any part in its naming but maybe it’s with that word “hope” I draw these lines to a close.
I hope he knows he made a difference. I hope he rests in peace. And, with him I think, we pray that our Church will never fail to have hope.
May he rest in peace. Amen.