by Father Robert Flannery
Special to The Leaven
As Catholics, we often speak of the “universality” of the Catholic Church. One of the many ways this demonstrates itself is through the sharing of priests and religious who have been raised or have lived in one diocese, and then for a variety of reasons end up living and serving elsewhere.
As we all know, mobility is a sign of the times, and oftentimes can even be part of God’s plan.
My name is Father Bob Flannery, and that is precisely what happened to me!
I was raised in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas and was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Belleville in southern Illinois 50 years ago this past June.
Archbishop Ignatius J. Strecker was present at my first Mass in Lawrence, and one of my former bishops in Belleville is Archbishop Emeritus Jim Keleher.
I was born in Hastings, Nebraska, and when I was 3 years old, my family moved to Lawrence, where my father became the manager of Weaver’s Department Store.
Both my parents, Larry Sr. and Dorothy Flannery, were products of Catholic education. They met in Omaha, Nebraska, and were married at St. Cecilia Cathedral in 1940 by none other than Msgr. Edward J. Hunkeler.
Shortly after arriving in Lawrence in 1950, my mother went to register at St. John the Evangelist rectory, the only Catholic parish in Lawrence at the time. She asked then-Father George Towle to enroll my older brother Larry Jr. into Catholic school.
Father Towle told my mother, “Mrs. Flannery, unfortunately we do not have a Catholic school in town, but you are most welcome to help start one.”
My mother took him at his word, and six years later, St. John School opened its doors, to a great extent through the efforts and enthusiasm of my mother and father, who were instrumental in the school becoming a reality.
In 2009, as a recognition of this extraordinary endeavor by my mother (my father had passed away two decades before), a later parish in Lawrence, Corpus Christi, through the initiative of its pastor Father Mick Mulvany, established “The Dorothy Flannery Honor,” calling my mom “the Mother of Catholic Education in Lawrence.”
She was honored due to her dedicated service to St. John, the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center and Corpus Christi Parish and School.
At first, there were six grades at St. John — first through sixth. My brother Larry was unfortunately too old at that point to attend, but my younger brother Joe started first grade, and I was in fourth.
Four Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth were our teachers. It was the first time I had ever seen a nun.
As I grew older, I was surrounded by religious life. I assisted the Sisters with the Legion of Mary apostolate and played the organ and sang at the daily Requiem Masses along with some of my classmates. I was a regular altar server at Mass from second grade through college, and I was inspired by the newly ordained priest, Father Vince Krische.
While in Lawrence, I was introduced to archdiocesan priests, Jesuits, Benedictines, the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth and eventually the Capuchins.
All these relationships nurtured my priestly vocation.
And so why, you ask, did I end up in the Diocese of Belleville in southern Illinois?
Having first sensed that God was calling me to be a Benedictine monk while a student at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota, I made a retreat during my sophomore year at Conception Abbey and Seminary in Conception, Missouri.
It was there that I became good friends with some seminarians from the Belleville Diocese, and after college, I made the decision to be incardinated there.
The church is truly universal. No matter where we go, live or serve, God continues to build up his church through her ministers and her faithful.
I am so very proud and privileged to have had my faith and priestly vocation nurtured in such a profound way by my home parish and community of St. John the Evangelist in Lawrence.
Praised be God for his many blessings and for the providential plan God has for each of us on our amazing life and vocation journeys!
Father Flannery is pastor of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Carbondale, Illinois, and chaplain at the Newman Catholic Student Center at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. This summer he received the “Ezekiel: Prophet of Hope Award” from his main alma mater, Saint John’s University’s School of Theology and Seminary in Collegeville, Minnesota, where he continues to serve on the board of regents.