READING - As many of us know, Father Arthur Flynn passed away on Oct. 7 at the Regina Cleri home for retired priests in Boston at the age of 92.
He served at St. Agnes Parish for 33 years from 1974 until his retirement in 2007. Father Arthur was St. Agnes’ 10th Pastor, serving in that capacity from 1976 to 2007, the longest pastorship at 31 years since the church’s founding in 1904.
After his retirement from St. Agnes, Father Arthur celebrated Sunday Mass at Our Lady of Assumption Church in Lynnfield for nine years. He made his home on the North Shore before failing health forced full retirement to Regina Cleri, the Boston assisted living home for retired priests, in 2016. He had his own room until last December when individual medical attention required his move into their hospital unit.
Father Arthur was an Archdiocese of Boston priest for nearly 69 years beginning with his ordination by Archbishop Richard Cushing in January of 1952 at St. John’s Seminary in Brighton. He served at St. Mary’s in Quincy, St. Michael’s in Bedford, St. Charles in Woburn and St. Mary of the Assumption in Melrose, then earned a Master’s Degree in Religious Education at Boston College before coming to St. Agnes in 1974 as an associate pastor.
Father Arthur’s contributions to St. Agnes over his years of service were significant and plentiful, particularly in drawing closer together parishioners’ religious needs with those of their dynamic community lives. Among the many church activities he oversaw were St. Agnes’ Diamond Jubilee Celebration in 1979 at Parker Middle School’s Field where the Colonial Chorus performed a repertoire of hit songs from Broadway Shows and the Hawkes Field House at RMHS hosted Mass on Sunday where His Eminence Humberto Cardinal Medeiros assisted in con-celebrating the Mass.
There were many other major events Father Arthur presided over in his St. Agnes tenure with the assistance of involved parishioners which included the utilization of the closed St. Agnes School and Convent, the renewals called for by Vatican Council II, two renovations in the upper and lower church, the appointment of Father Jim Hickey to Administrator of St. Francis de Sales Parish in Roxbury after 13 years at St. Agnes, and becoming a two-priest parish with Father Ed’s departure to another diocesan assignment in 1987. On the positive side, participation in the Reading Clergy Association, the establishment of many new ministries to meet specific group needs, and the re-assignment of Father Ed Malone to St. Agnes in 2000 were witnessed.
While we’ve just touched the surface of some of Father Arthur’s accomplishments cited above, this Spotlight’s complementary purpose is to provide first-hand observations by clergy and parishioners who were close to Father Arthur.
For Rev. Ed Malone, senior priest in residence at St. Agnes who worked for a combined 16 years with Father Arthur at St. Agnes, the most memorable moment for him came at Father Arthur’s retirement celebration. While there were many significant events in Father Arthur’s 33 years at St. Agnes, many priests who served during Father Arthur’s pastorship joined in the retirement celebration in appreciation for the opportunity to have worked with him and to wish him well. Working with Father Arthur was a joy for Father Ed who said that he particularly enjoyed liturgy and adult education/formation in the faith groups the most. Moreover, Father Ed believed that Father Arthur’s most important contribution to St. Agnes was his vision of what a parish should be. He was a great friend and influence on Father Ed and what he does daily in exercising his priestly duties.
Father Ed indicated that in his retirement, Father Arthur enjoyed a good meal, especially if it included chocolate. He had a one-year subscription to chocolate treats delivered every two weeks where the clock could be set to the date of the next delivery.
One of parishioner Mary Ellen Hatfield’s favorite memories was when her dad was having a cardiac issue. “He had heart problems for years; however, this was a particularly difficult day. My mom had called his doctor and he received a new prescription. Mom then called St. Agnes and left a message for Fr. Arthur. My mom was told he was out on a call. Much later in the day dad was feeling better and mom called to leave the message for Fr. Arthur that Joe was improving. Well, about 8:00 p.m., she heard a knock on the door and it was Fr. Arthur. Mom asked if he received the latest message and he answered, ‘Yes’, but knew he could not sleep if he hadn’t seen Dad. Fr. Arthur had walked to my parents’ home during a raging blizzard.
He truly was a messenger of our Lord and will be sorely missed by all who knew him.”
A second, long-time parishioner and lector at St. Agnes among her many town contributions over the generations is Sally Hoyt who had this to say:
“I have wonderful priestly memories of Father Flynn. He was the priestly “Quiet man” who attracted attention when he spoke, or gave sermons. He was highly respected by adults and children alike.
We were able to share family problems with him in ease and comfort. Father Flynn encouraged me to serve as Lector at St. Agnes Church, which lasted more than 25 years. As church volunteers, we met with Father Flynn for special instructions monthly, and he would always say, ‘Sally Hoyt knows all the answers. She has been with us forever.’
Father Flynn truly understood how to calm our parishioners concerns, and he always came up with answers that solved our many problems. I cannot sing my praises for Father Flynn more highly, and will always remember him as a ‘Saintly priest’. He treated everyone with extreme kindness, patience, and respect. Our parishioners were shattered when he left Saint Agnes Church. I shall remember Father Arthur as a passionate, Pius priest.”
From Rev. Jim Hickey who served at St. Agnes for 13 years with Father Arthur:
“Simply put? He was a good priest. Devout and gentle, he preached with St. Paul: ‘…the supreme good (is) knowing Christ Jesus my Lord (Philippians 3:8)’. He lived an ordinary, even hidden life in keeping with his somewhat shy and quiet personality. Faith in Jesus was central to his life and his priesthood of almost 70 years. He lived 33 years in Reading, first as a parochial vicar then as leader, pastor. He was a servant ‘in season and out of season’ (II Timothy 4:2).
When Catholicism changed massively 55 years ago, quite out of character, Arthur took a two-year leave from parish life to attend Boston College. There he immersed himself in the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. Enriched with the theology of the Council he came to Reading equipped to apply Vatican II to the renewal of parish life. He empowered lay people and their taking leadership in their parish. A happy man, Arthur formed a happy parish. The key? Knowing Jesus Christ personally! And, genuinely loving people.
Arthur Flynn came to St. Agnes in 1974 as a parochial vicar, an assistant to the pastor. In 1976, Fr. Matthew Coughlin retired as pastor and the parishioners were gathered by officials from the Archdiocese to make suggestions as to the qualities they wanted in a new pastor to be appointed by Cardinal Medeiros. Despite the prohibition about mentioning any names for a new pastor, the community insisted on speaking about Fr. Arthur only without using his name. Since he had asked to be appointed pastor, Arthur was barred from being present. But I was there and so were hundreds of parishioners. Without naming Arthur scores of folks lauded the lovely spiritual development of their community since he had arrived.
One man gave a striking analogy. It seems he’d recently repaved his driveway and then amazingly a Maple sapling burst right through the black top, climbing boldly into the sunlight. ‘That,’ said the parishioner, ‘is our parish’. Since a certain priest has come, we’ve broken through into a new and exciting existence. And we all want him as our pastor. Arthur Flynn served as St. Agnes’ pastor for 31 years, retiring in 2007. Many St. Agnes people and myself believe something very special happened at what Catholics call the ‘particular judgment’ of Arthur’s soul. Our Lord Jesus opened his arms on October 7th to Arthur Flynn and said, ‘Well done my good and faithful servant… Come share your master’s joy’ (Matthew 25:31). Praise to you, Lord Jesus, for having given us ‘Father Arthur.’”
There were many other parishioners whose sentiments of Father Arthur paralleled those related here. Time however doesn’t permit coverage in a single Spotlight. Suffice it to say that Father Arthur epitomized the model of a priestly servant of God, treating all with untiring kindness, patience and respect.
Author’s note: The author would like to thank all who helped contribute to this Spotlight.