Among Archbishop Flynn’s many friends…

| September 27, 2019 | 0 Comments

Archbishop Harry Flynn thrived when interacting with people, sharing his warm smile, genuine concern and Irish wit. He often served others in private acts of charity, and along the way, made lifelong friends:

‘Papa bishop’

Lulu Daly

Lulu Daly of St. Peter in Mendota first met Archbishop Flynn in 2004. A friend who knew him well had invited her over for dinner when the archbishop was there. Six months later, the friend urged Daly to offer her own dinner invitation to the archbishop.

Reluctantly, she did. Dinner was scheduled for 7 p.m. that fall evening. The doorbell of Daly’s home in St. Paul rang at 4:30. It was Archbishop Flynn.

“When I answered the door, I was like, ‘Oh no,’” said Daly, 59. “I was in my jeans, I wasn’t ready for anything. I didn’t even start cooking. And so, I started laughing. He said, ‘Am I early?’ I said, ‘Just a little.’ And then I said, ‘Do you like to cook?’ He said, ‘I love to cook.’ I said, ‘Well, come on in.’ And, that started a wonderful friendship.”

Together, they prepared one of her classic Italian meals of meatballs and sausage for the entire Daly family, which included Lulu’s husband, Dr. Peter Daly, and their four children, one of whom is Father Michael Daly, ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis in 2016. Later that night, Archbishop Flynn gave Lulu his cell phone number and told her to call him if she or the family needed anything.

That call came just weeks later when she invited him over for Thanksgiving dinner. A month later, he joined the Dalys for Christmas Eve dinner. He spent both holidays with them every year that followed, including when his health was failing last year and they had to see him at the rectory of St. Vincent de Paul parish in St. Paul, where he was living.

Lulu spent every day with him from Sept. 3 until Sept. 22, the day he died. She and her husband and several others were at his bedside, Lulu with her arms around him, when he passed away at 11:30 p.m.

“It really was the most beautiful death (he) could have had,” Lulu said. “It was just full of so much love in the Holy Spirit and the Blessed Sacrament. It doesn’t get better than that.”

Lulu said she treasured the time her family got to spend with Archbishop Flynn, which included trips to Ireland and Italy, regular Sunday dinners at the chancery prepared by him, birthday celebrations, weddings and baptisms. He officiated at the wedding of her daughter, Tricia, to Brian Borg in 2012 at St. Catherine University in St. Paul. The Borgs’ second child is named Peter Flynn after the archbishop.

The grandchildren called him “Papa Bishop,” Lulu said. Though the home could be hectic at times, she said Archbishop Flynn always wanted to be part of their family life.

“His father died when he was 6, and his mom died when he was 12,” Lulu said. “He was raised by his aunts. And, I think he never had that family unit. I think that’s what he treasured in our family — he got the family unit he never had.”

‘That smile’

Bobbi Dawson

The first memory Bobbi Dawson has of Archbishop Flynn became a lasting one.

When the archbishop became co-adjutor in 1994 with Archbishop John Roach, Dawson had been working for the archdiocese for more than two decades. She spent most of her time filling in for other employees who were out sick or on vacation, calling herself “a floater.”

She can’t remember exactly when she first met the archbishop, but she remembers what happened.

“We were at the chancery — 226 Summit in the John R. Roach room,” said Dawson, 69. “We all lined up — all the chancery people and people from the other buildings. Archbishop was there, and we all got to greet him that day. He always had that smile on his face. And, you knew that this was gonna be good, that he was a good man.”

Along with that trademark smile usually came a story, Dawson said. “He always had a story to tell.”

The smile and the stories continued to surface, even in the finals days of his life. Early on, Dawson became his personal assistant, a role she had all the way until he died.

She spent much of her time writing letters that he dictated to her — some say she was the only person who could keep up. But, she said the most important task she worked on with the archbishop was preparing and sending Christmas cards.

“That was always a big deal” to him, she said. He noticed her handwriting and asked if she would handwrite the address labels. She didn’t know the full scope of the job until he showed her several rolodexes filled with names and addresses of his friends.

She would start in March, and he would begin signing the cards in July — every one.

“And, he just about always put a small note on each card,” she said. “He always liked that personal touch.”

The cards would get mailed right after Thanksgiving. Dawson said people told her that usually his card was one of the first they received.

“Now, I just use (printed) labels,” she said. “But, for years we handwrote every one of those — for sure, 1,500 to 2,000.”

The last year he sent them was 2018. Because of failing health, Dawson had his signature printed on the cards so he wouldn’t have to go through the work of signing them. What did he do? He sat down and signed them anyway.

Driving force

Pat Willis

Pat Willis has no idea how many miles he logged while serving as driver for Archbishop Flynn for the last 25 years. What he does know is that most of the time, there were three passengers inside Archbishop Flynn’s black Buicks — the archbishop and his two dogs, Megan and Katie. Megan was a golden retriever, and Katie was a mixed breed given to him by Sister Andrea Lee, a former president of St. Catherine University in St. Paul.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time, he traveled with the two dogs,” said Willis, 78, who has worked for the archdiocese for more than 40 years, mostly in building maintenance. “That was fun.”

Willis would get the dogs in and out of the car, putting them in the back seat. If they needed water or a bathroom break, he would take care of it.

“They were like his kids,” Willis said. “They were his favorite thing.”

One of the most memorable drives they made was a trip to Duluth. Archbishop Flynn had learned that a man who grew up in his native state of New York was incarcerated in Duluth, and the family back home couldn’t afford to come and see him. So, the family asked Archbishop Flynn if he would pay the man a visit, restricted by the prison to 30 minutes a day.

He did — at least three times. “He’d go up and spend a half hour with him, and we’d turn around and come back,” Willis said. “He was unbelievable.”

Willis also remembers driving the archbishop on other missions of charity, like the time they went to Children’s Hospital in St. Paul and gave a wrapped gift to a young man with a serious illness he had met there who said the only thing that got him through each day was looking out his window and seeing the sunshine reflecting off the dome of the Cathedral of St. Paul.

“He was the kindest, most friendly and outgoing person that you ever met,” Willis said of Archbishop Flynn.

Passion for hospitality

Sister Fran Donnelly

Archbishop Flynn loved to entertain. He always went “the whole nine yards” when it came to putting on special celebrations at the chancery, especially when it involved women religious, Sister Fran Donnelly said.

Sister Fran helped organize and run such events starting in about 2000, when she became a vicar for religious along with Sister Dominica Brennan. She also served as director of ministry personnel for the archdiocese.

She discovered how strong his passion for hospitality was when food ran out at one function.

“The Monday morning after the function, we each received what became known as the infamous blue memo, and he let us know in no uncertain terms this was never to happen again,” she said. “We knew we had been properly chastised. It was one of those things that he would tease about for years.”

Archbishop Flynn had a deep love for religious women, which Sister Fran, 72, a member of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, came to know and appreciate.

“He was just so intent on doing the best and the nicest for people, especially religious women,” she said. “They adored him, and he (adored them). He would sit and talk all day at those functions — one story after another of all the nuns he ever knew in the East.”

She said the archbishop talked often, and with great admiration, about the sisters who helped care for him when he was growing up, especially after his father died when he was 6 and his mother died when he was 12.

“He just didn’t forget” how the religious women treated him growing up, Sister Fran said.

He also remembered sit uations that he would bring up years later, often as a way to tease people like Sister Fran. He had a way of getting in a little verbal jab, and at the same time giving subtle praise and affirmation.

Like the way Archbishop Flynn would bring up Sister Fran’s grandmother, Kate McGrath Donnelly, whom he met and got to know while he was serving at St. Peter’s parish in Troy, New York, to which she belonged.

When he was not happy with Sister Fran — “and that would happen on occasion,” she said — he would tell her that her grandmother would not be pleased. Conversely, when he was happy with her, he would tell her “your grandmother would be so proud of you.”

It was all part of the banter she had with a man she considered a friend and who, years after he retired, she jokingly asked if she could call “Uncle Harry.”

“He, more than anyone I’ve ever known, mastered the fine art of teasing,” she said. “And, teasing as an endearment.”

Funeral friend

Father John Malone

Father John Malone forged a unique bond with Archbishop Flynn.

“We’re both Irish and we both enjoy a good funeral,” said the longtime pastor of Assumption in downtown St. Paul who retired two years ago.

Not long after Archbishop Flynn arrived in the archdiocese, the two started going to funerals together. It started in 1995, when Father Malone asked the archbishop to come to his mother’s funeral.

They continued to drive to numerous funerals, mainly for those of priests and parents of priests. Father Malone said the “best thing” Archbishop Flynn could hear on a given day was that he needed to go to a funeral. That meant he could leave the office “and be with people.”

Father Malone, 78, said the archbishop had “enormous sympathy” for people and was drawn to funerals as a way of connecting with them.

“He really liked meeting the people. He liked to say thanks” to the family of a priest who died, Father Malone said.

Father Malone called the archbishop “a people guy.” Management was not his top priority. “His first concern was people,” Father Malone said.

The conversations in the car were filled with many topics. On a few occasions, the discussions got heated.

“We once had a fabulous shouting match — and we would bring that up frequently in the years since then — over communal penance,” Father Malone recalled. But, after a quick-witted remark by Father Malone, Archbishop Flynn “started to laugh.”

Along the way, the archbishop also brought up personal things about his life, which Father Malone appreciated.

“I liked how open he could be about his own experience,” Father Malone said. “He was orphaned young. Hardly there’d be a social evening that he wouldn’t bring up the gratitude that he had to his father’s family — his father’s sisters, his aunts — who brought him into their house and took care of him.”

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