Hundreds of Catholic faithful poured into the Cathedral of St. Paul on Monday to attend the funeral mass for retired Archbishop Harry Flynn, remembering him as a man of wit and compassion and genuine interest in the lives of others.
Flynn, who died Sept. 22 at age 86, led the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis from 1995 until his retirement in 2008. He continued working, offering masses, retreats for seminarians, and personal support to his wide religious and social community.
"Archbishop Flynn was a wonderful, wonderful human being," said Baltimore Archbishop William Lori, a former student of Flynn's who delivered the homily. "He was warm, he had a beautiful sense of humor, never forgot a name or face, and he wrote out his Christmas cards in July — always with that personal note inside."
Similar sentiments were repeated during the funeral mass, attended by Catholic parishioners, as well as about 200 clergy and deacons, a dozen bishops and Cardinal Blase Cupich of the Archdiocese of Chicago.
Flynn had been a popular and personable archbishop, known for his advocacy of the poor and disadvantaged and other social issues. He gained national prominence as one of the American bishops who penned the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, the key document outlining church policy on clergy sex abuse.
However Flynn's handling of priest sex abusers in the Twin Cities was sharply criticized as archdiocese documents emerged starting in 2013 indicating that some priests who had engaged in sexual misconduct were allowed to continue in ministry under his watch.
But in a 2014 court deposition, Flynn responded more than 130 times that he couldn't remember how he handled sexual misconduct. Flynn's successor, former Archbishop John Nienstedt, ultimately resigned because of the sexual misconduct scandal, which led to the archdiocese declaring bankruptcy.
That chapter of Flynn's life, however, was not on the minds of those gathered at the cathedral.
Rather, the pews were filled with people whose lives had been touched by the Irish-American archbishop.
Meghan McCarthy and her sister Colleen McCarthy Veilleux lingered after the service. Flynn was a longtime family friend, they said. They recalled that when they were growing up, their father had been unwittingly parking in Flynn's personal parking space across from the cathedral.
Amused, Flynn eventually came out to meet the family of seven packed into the car, "and said we could park there any time," said a smiling McCarthy.
Over the years, Flynn married their family members, baptized their children, and most recently held an engagement party for their brother's new wife, she said. The archbishop also consoled them after a friend's suicide, after a miscarriage.
"He's been with us through our ups and downs," said Colleen McCarthy Veilleux.
Sister Andrea Lee, former president of St. Catherine University and a personal friend, in her eulogy called Flynn "a gifted storyteller, gracious host and a much beloved archbishop." She recalled how even after retirement, the archbishop remained active in the Catholic community.
"Confirmations, parish visits, counseling with young seminarians and seasoned pastors, weddings, baptisms, funerals and jubilees," said Lee. "And lavishly entertaining so many friends ... including on holidays, when his practice of gathering those without nearby friends and family continues unabated."
Flynn was born in 1933 in Schenectady, N.Y. He was orphaned at age 12 and raised by his maiden aunts. He studied at Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Maryland, was ordained in 1960, and later served on Mount St. Mary's staff.
In 1986 he was appointed bishop in the Diocese of Lafayette, La. He then succeeded former Twin Cities Archbishop John Roach in 1995. He retired in 2008, and in recent years, had been battling bone cancer.
The funeral marked the end of two days of public prayer and mourning. On Sunday, a public visitation and prayer vigil were held at St. Mary's Chapel at St. Paul Seminary. Flynn was buried Monday at Resurrection Cemetery in Mendota Heights.
Among Flynn's mourners was a delegation from northern Uganda, where the Archbishop Harry Flynn Secondary School is marking its 10th anniversary.
"We were scheduled to have lunch with him on Wednesday," said the Rev. Paul Peter Rom, an administrator at the school. "But we know that he's now in heaven."