Remembering “the people’s priest” of the Bronx

Remembering “the people’s priest” of the Bronx September 25, 2012

Every now and then, we receive a blessed reminder of what it means to follow in the footsteps of Christ.

Here’s one, from the New York Times:

The Rev. John C. Flynn could have been a monsignor, but as he told the story in later years, he refused the elevation because he already held a title more to his liking: the people’s priest.

Father Flynn, 83, who spent a half-century championing the poor, the disadvantaged and the forgotten of the Bronx, died on Monday at the Schervier Nursing Care Center in Riverdale after a long debilitating illness, according to his family.

“He did not need any title, he did not need any accolades, he just wanted to be a parish priest,” said Heidi Hynes, the executive director of the Mary Mitchell Family and Youth Center, who used to receive regular visits from Father Flynn asking what could be done to help the needy.

Tall and lanky with bright blue eyes, Father Flynn reached into the seediest corners of the Bronx and offered a helping hand, relatives and friends said. He started a campaign called Save a Generation to give education and job training to high school dropouts; walked the streets trading crucifixes for guns in an optimistic but futile effort to make neighborhoods safer; and attended hundreds of meetings to lobby for a better life for families, by building more low-cost housing or saving community gardens.

In the late 1970s, when the South Bronx was awash in crime and despair, he joined with local activists to help tenants who were living without heat or hot water for weeks at a time. He showed them how to stand up for themselves and reclaim their neighborhoods.

“These were human beings and not pieces of furniture to be thrown out,” said the Rev. Neil Connolly, who worked alongside Father Flynn in the Bronx and is now pastor of St. Mary’s Church in the Lower East Side. “All of us knew we would not be forever in the South Bronx, so there had to be not only development of buildings and property but also the development of people. Our way was not to do things for people but to help them do things for themselves.”

Read more. 

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him…

 Photo: Marcus Yam/The New York Times

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