Thursday, 13 November 2014

Dionysius L. Flanagan: The Man and His Manner

The Carmelite Church, Moate
In one of his extensive online histories of the New York Carmelites, Carmel in New York, The Province of St. Elias 1927 – 1947, Alfred Isacsson, O.Carm provides this detailed overview of the work and character of Father Lawrence Flanagan:

A decree of September 3, 1926, appointed Dionysius Lawrence Flanagan the Commissary General of the five houses that had been separated some four years previously from the Irish Province.1 The motherhouse of Our Lady of the Scapular on East 28th Street, Transfiguration Church in Tarrytown, Our Lady of Mount Carmel and its missions in Middletown, St. Simon Stock in the Bronx and St. Albert's, Middletown, were the extent of the realm. Flanagan had come to the United States in 1908, shortly after his ordination, and had the experience of living in all of the houses before he assumed command.

Born in Moate, Ireland, on June 19, 1882, Flanagan went to Blackrock College, Dublin in 1897. After two years as a student there, two Carmelites, Wheatley and McDonnell, came to see him, having heard that he was interested in studying for the priesthood. In September of 1899, he transferred to Terenure College and entered the novitiate on October 15, 1900. After studying theology in Ireland, Flanagan was ordained a priest on March 17, 1907,

In September, 1908, he came to New York to work at 28th Street. 1910 found him at Tarrytown where he supplied on the weekends at the missions then attached to the Wurtsboro parish of St. Joseph. That fall, he was made pastor of the parish of Holy Name in Otisville and when the headquarters of the parish were moved to Middletown in 1912, Flanagan returned to Tarrytown as an assistant to Finbar O'Connor, From 1914 to 1922, he was at 28th Street, He was then sent to St. Albert's where he was prior and later novice master. At the death of Finbar O'Connor in 1924, he became the prior and pastor of 28th Street until the death of Gerard O'Farrell in 1926 when Flanagan was appointed Commissary General and moved to St. Simon Stock in the Bronx.

It seems that until he went out of office as provincial in 1943, Flanagan preferred to go by the name, Lawrence D. As the number entering the order increased and the use of religious names became more common, he used his religious name of Dionysius. To many outside the order, particularly those in Ireland who knew him as a youth, he was always Lawrence or Father Larry.

Inside of the Carmelite Church in Moate
There is an interesting story concerning Dionysius Flanagan that illustrates his politics and conviction. When some mission preachers were working St, Simon Stock, one of them stated one evening that only a fool would have voted for Norman Thomas, the Socialist candidate, in the recent presidential election. Thomas usually managed to garner a small handful of votes in each of the many runs he made for the presidency. On hearing this comment, Flanagan was heard to mutter, "I must be a fool for I always voted for him." Many Irish rebels were socialist in outlook and this shows his kinship with them. Also, it shows how he relentlessly followed a path once he chose it.

Dionysius Flanagan enjoyed good health throughout his life. He did have a prostate operation while visiting Los Angeles in 1934. Besides this, he was comparatively well especially during his retirement years in Williamstown. He died on April 3, 1966 of coronary thrombosis and arteriosclerosis.

Evaluation of Flanagan's regime as commissary general and provincial (1931 -43) vary from Carmelite to Carmelite. To many of his contemporaries, he was a stern taskmaster, strict and unrelenting. To others, he was the saviour of the small and budding province. One of his subjects and later a general of the order, Kilian Lynch, described how the first constitutions in many years had been issued in 1902. Previously, there had been little discipline due to the fact that customs, dating from the times of Catholic oppression in Ireland, had ruled the Irish Carmelites and their New York group. The new way of life that came in with the constitutions created many problems for superiors like Flanagan. He had to insist on the life dictated by the constitutions. This did not sit well with all of the men.

Order—Provence of St Elias,
North America
Flanagan gathered money to build up a fund from which building new foundations and student education could be provided. Flanagan himself, almost to the end of his days, worked as hard as he demanded of others. His sermons indicate that he often gave conferences, particularly to sisters, and preached many retreats. The length of his material indicates that he gave good value for the stipend he received.

When Flanagan became the commissary general, he fell heir to the Irish activities of his predecessors, O'Connor and O'Farrell. When these men were at the height of their activity, Flanagan was not stationed in New York City and thus at a disadvantage for participating. His espousing of the Irish cause perhaps dates to his days at Blackrock where he was a classmate of Eamon De Valera. His role, though, was not that of an activist or fomenter. He was more of an advisor who proceeded in a quiet and humble way.

He kept in close touch with many of the Irish heroes like De Valera, Sean O'Kelly and Sean Nunan. The MacSwineys were especially close to him. He was active, loaning for example, "O’Curry's manuscript copy of Keating’s Ireland" to New York's forty-second Street Library for a De Valera visit in 1939, interceding for Irish immigrants to obtain permanent residency or a job and contributed £20 to the 1938 election fund of Fianna Fail, When the Irish Pavilion of the 1938-39 World's Fair was dismantled, he purchased some exhibits and took the granite of the Pearse Memorial to use in the house he hoped to construct in Washington. Today, it still lies beneath the 28th Street church.

Flanagan's role can be seen in an incident. De Valera wrote Father Timothy Shanley concerning the Irish Press fund raising drive. He did this though only after consulting with Flanagan obtaining from him information and advice.

When religious activities were participated in by the Irish, Flanagan was present in a prominent role. He was the celebrant when Mass was celebrated for the preservation of peace and neutrality in Ireland. St. Patrick's Day, 1943, while Ireland lay in a perplexed neutrality, saw Flanagan as the preacher at St. Patrick's Cathedral.

After retirement to Williamstown in 1953, he exchanged a number of letters with Eamon De Valera mainly concerning the split in the United States between the De Valera and Cohalan forces in the 1920's. It was Flanagan's opinion to the aging Irish leader that the split was caused by the fact that the Cohalan forces could not control De Valera and what he thought best for Ireland.

One day in 1929, when Mother Angeline Theresa was in the process of consulting Cardinal Hayes about the foundation of the Carmelite Sisters of the Aged and Infirm, Dionysius Flanagan went to the Old People's Home on East 183 Street in the Bronx to try and place an old man in the institution. He entered by mistake through the kitchen and met Mother Collette with whom he placed his request. Some days later, he sent the sisters roses left over from St. Simon Stock's celebration of the feast of St. Therese of Lisieux. This gesture along with Flanagan's visit, the sisters took as a sign and introduced themselves and their goals to the Carmelites. It was in 1931 that the sisters were affiliated to the Carmelite Order. Ellas Magennis presented the petition to the Holy See after Flanagan had done the groundwork in the United States.Flanagan was always modest about his role in establishing the sisters and when forced to speak of it, he would tell of Magennis' work in Rome and the work of Kieran Hickey and Patrick Russell in working with the sisters on their constitutions.

Flanagan arranged a Roman visit for Mothers Angeline and Collette in 1932, enticing Magennis to escort them around Rome and to arrange a papal audience for them. He assisted the sisters by supplying priests for their retreats, conferences and confessions. He often gave them advice and did many business matters for the fledgling group. He tried to help them found a house in Rome but Cardinal Hayes withheld his approval. He was present for many of the community's ceremonies and attended the dedication of many of their homes.

Flanagan also corresponded with many sisters. Some were personal friends, some staffed Carmelite schools, some were from his hometown of Moate and some were his advisees. He advised sisters personally and community wise. He sent congratulations on special occasions, consoled them at the times of personal or community loss. Besides the Sisters of the Aged and Infirm, the Good Shepherd Sisters, the Sisters of Mercy and the Discalced Carmelites seem to be the communities he was more familiar with.

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