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In Retirement, Edward Flanagan Finds More Time for Ministry – and Some Fascinating Hobbies, Too

Ed Flanagan enjoying a conversation at St. Anthony Friary in St. Petersburg.

This is part of a continuing series of profiles of the Province’s retired friars, providing a look back on their ministerial journeys, and on what they are doing now. The previous article profiled Thomas Jones, OFM

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Retirement is just another way of making the Kingdom of God present in the world, with more free time to do it – words that Edward Flanagan, OFM, not only speaks, but also lives by.

For starters, his arrival in 2016 at St. Anthony Friary, the retirement house in St. Petersburg, was like a homecoming. Edward was a familiar face to residents – and the area was no stranger to him – having lived in the community for 20 years, from 1989 to 2008, when he was assigned to HNP Ministry of the Word.

This ministry had him part of a friar team bringing parish missions and retreats throughout the Southeast, from Florida to Georgia to Virginia – and as far west as Mississippi, with an occasional venture to Iowa and Nevada. Although he gave 225 parish missions during that span of time, Edward was also active in assisting parishes in the Diocese of St. Petersburg – preaching and evangelizing, hearing confessions, visiting the sick, and performing other core ministries.

In a recent phone interview, Edward cheerfully recalled his 20-year assignment with Ministry of the Word – which, ironically, he thought would be a transitional ministry bridging his previous eight years of pastoral work to a new permanent assignment.

“Something that I thought would be temporary wound up being the beginning of the premier ministry of my priestly life,” Edward said. “I was drawn to it because Ministry of the Word is basic Franciscan ministry. It was the way St. Francis started, sending out brothers two-by-two to preach the Word of God.”

He remembered the Province’s decision at the time was to try to bring the Catholic style of evangelization to small parishes across the Southeast. “We started locally, in Belleair Bluffs (a 30-minute drive from St. Petersburg with a total population just a shade above 2,000), and then it just took off from there,” he said.

The transitional assignment became a permanent one, in part, because Edward was intrigued by the response as he and the other friars moved from parish to parish.

“Anyone coming to church on a Monday or Tuesday night for a mission was serious about their faith. I met so many wonderful and faith-filled people over those years,” he said.

Although he is officially retired from what he characterizes as “24/7 ministry,” Edward’s ministerial presence in St. Petersburg and other Florida communities is still felt. “After all,” he says, “retirement is simply having a little extra quiet time for yourself, but it doesn’t mean a complete departure from ministry.”

Since taking up residence at St. Anthony Friary, Edward, who celebrated his 81st birthday last summer, has been active in the Diocese of St. Petersburg – hearing confessions and celebrating Mass in some of the same parishes he served when he was assigned to Ministry of the Word.

In addition, Edward celebrates Mass weekly and preaches at a retreat house in nearby Clearwater that is run by Marian Servants of Our Lady of Divine Providence.

Community and Fraternal Life
At the St. Petersburg retirement house, he enjoys taking his turn in the rotation as leader of community prayer – which he says is important to all friars, no matter the stage of their ministerial life.

“Community and fraternal life are the foundation of the Franciscan way of life. Living here offers both. In retirement, you don’t feel rushed; the pace of life is more manageable – allowing more time for prayer and conscious contact with God,” said Edward, who relishes opportunities at the friary of reconnecting with friars whom he has known since 1955 when they were classmates at St. Joseph’s Seraphic Seminary in Callicoon, N.Y.

The call to religious vocation was gradual for Edward, although seeds of discernment were planted in his subconscious between his adolescence and early teenage years. It was during that time when his cousin, Alexander Eustace, OFM, who went on to serve 54 years as an HNP missionary in Brazil, would bring a group of classmates to his house every few weeks for a little home cooking when Alexander was a cleric studying at the original Holy Name College in Washington, D.C.

“They were a happy and cheerful group, which left an impression on me,” he said of his introduction to the Franciscans.

Raised in Mount Rainier, a city in Prince George’s County, Md. – literally in walking distance of the Washington border – Edward came from a faith-filled family whose parents, both native New Yorkers, would take him and his two older brothers to Sunday Mass.

Ed attended Catholic grammar school and was a member of the first graduating class of Archbishop Carroll High School. It was a close-knit group that would meet three or four times a year for mini-reunion lunches – that is, before age and geography impacted their ability to get around, according to Edward, who says the group keeps in contact these days mostly via email.

After high school graduation, the then-18-year-old Edward decided he would “give [religious vocation] a try,” entering the seminary in Callicoon in 1955. Two years later, he entered St. Raphael Novitiate in Lafayette, N.J., where he professed his first vows in 1958. He was ordained in 1964 at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land of America in the nation’s capital.

Edward returned to Callicoon in 1965, where he taught Latin and coached basketball and track for seven years. One of his student athletes was Roberto Gonzalez, OFM, currently the archbishop of San Juan, Puerto Rico, who held the school record for the 100-yard dash.

A photo taken in 1970 showing Edward coaching basketball team members at St. Joseph Seraphic seminary in Callicoon.

Ed still maintains communication with students he taught at St. Joseph’s, among them those who didn’t complete the formation program and are married with families. He reunited with some of them when a group of friars and former students attended a 50th anniversary reunion last September at a resort and conference center in Sullivan County a few miles from the seminary, which was closed in 1972.

The group spent hours reminiscing and was also given a special tour of the building, which is now occupied by a federal government program that provides job training to young adults. Edward expressed joy that the former seminary is being put to good use, helping young people get a good start in life.

“One thing notable about Ed – he embodies what it means to be fraternal,” said Kevin Cronin, OFM, a member of the 1968 college class who is stationed at St. Anthony Friary in Butler, N.J. “He works hard on keeping up not only with friars who were classmates, students and partners in ministries, but even with the guys who left during their formation and friars who have left for another vocation. He epitomizes the spirit of St. Francis, that we are all brothers.”

Reading and Stamp-Collecting
After his teaching assignment in Callicoon, Edward moved to St. Anthony Shrine in Boston, Mass., where he worked in marriage-related ministries, including marriage encounter and a program called “engaged encounter weekend” – the latter an intense pre-Cana experience for engaged couples. He still corresponds with some of the veteran married couples that were part of the team of friars and laity coordinating the program.

Edward went on to serve at the Franciscan retreat house in Rye Beach, N.H., St. Catherine of Bologna Parish in Ringwood, N.J., and Ministry of the Word in the Southeast from 1987 to 2008.

In the eight years before his retirement, he was stationed in Washington, D.C., at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land as the Province’s U.S. representative of the worldwide Custody of the Holy Land of the Franciscan Order, whose headquarters are in Jerusalem. (Although St. Francis of Assisi visited the Holy Land in 1219 for his famous peace encounter with the Sultan of Egypt Malek al-Kamil, it wasn’t until 1348 that the care of the Holy Land – both shrines and pastoral care of the local population – was entrusted to the Order of Friars Minor.)

In addition to staying active in ministry in the St. Petersburg area, Ed acknowledges that the luxury of spare time in retirement has enabled him to more passionately  pursue longtime interests.

He is catching up on his reading of Greek and Roman literature (“I have been a fan since high school,” he says), and the literary works of G.K. Chesterton, a convert to Catholicism and one of the 20th century’s most prolific British authors of more than 100 books and thousands of essays. Edward is a member of the American Chesterton Society, which promotes Chesterton’s literary works. He attends the organization’s annual conventions and has visited the author’s home in England.

Another passion that Edward has found more time to pursue is stamp collecting, a longtime interest that was reawakened when he met a priest from Rwanda while living at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land. Realizing how little he knew of the landlocked East African country in particular, and the continent of Africa in general, Edward used his fascination with stamp collecting as a way to gather information.

In his friary room. Ed Flanagan looks through his extensive stamp collection. (photo courtesy of John Anglin, OFM)

A Place to Come Home To
“I called it learning about Africa and the sub-Sahara from A-to-Z – from Angola to Zimbabwe. Stamps are also a work of art, especially commemorative ones. Stamps tell you stories about nature, geography, wildlife and people,” he said.

But he has also learned something else about the art of collecting stamps.

“Stamp collectors have a great respect for the goodness, beauty and truth of all creation. It makes me think that all stamp collectors are Franciscan,” said Edward, who is a member of the St. Petersburg Stamp Club, which has the largest library of stamp collecting south of D.C.

“They are wonderful people to be around. They are passionate about the hobby and enjoy talking about the beauty of creation as manifested in stamps. They have a world view of the interdependence of countries,” added Edward, who attends weekly meetings and other events at the club, which is just a three-block walk from the friary.

Edward, who began collecting sheets of U.S. stamps in the early 1990s, is particularly proud of a display on the wall outside the hobby room at the friary – documents that recognize the commemorative stamp of St. Francis of Assisi. He says it’s also a tribute to the groundbreaking achievement of the late Roy Gasnick, OFM, in getting the U.S. Postal Service to honor a Catholic saint.

“Roy engineered the successful drive for the St. Francis of Assisi commemorative stamp. He was behind the diplomacy with government agencies that went into this long and challenging effort,” he said.

For Edward, one of the best things about being a Franciscan has been exploring the spirit of St. Francis and his impact on the world.

“Understanding this spirit and putting it into practice is a constant challenge,” Edward said. “But what makes being a Franciscan the ultimate – you are a member of a community of brothers, and you always have a place to come home to.”

— Stephen Mangione is a longtime writer and public relations executive based in Westchester County, N.Y.

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