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​Funeral Mass celebrates life of Bishop Tom Flanagan ‘who had the heart of a child’

December 03, 2019 | posted by Archdiocese of San Antonio

Topics: Vocations

Funeral Mass celebrates life of Bishop Tom Flanagan ‘who had the heart of a child’

“He seemed to never tire of being with God’s People. “Tom Flanagan was truly with us and for us!” “He had the heart of a little one.” Those were just some of the phrases used to describe retired San Antonio Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Flanagan at his funeral Mass on October 15.

Hundreds came to St. Brigid Church to pay their respects to Bishop Flanagan, who was ordained a priest of the archdiocese in 1956 and later served as an auxiliary bishop from 1998 until his retirement in 2005. Among those in attendance were bishops, dozens of priests from the archdiocese as well as the Diocese of Victoria, and many parishioners from Bishop Tom’s former pastorates -- especially the host parish -- as well as St. Vincent de Paul Church in San Antonio.

Among the bishops in attendance were Bishop Brendan Cahill of the Diocese of Victoria, Bishop Joseph Strickland of the Diocese of Tyler, Bishop Emeritus John Yanta of the Diocese of Amarillo, Bishop Emeritus Edmond Carmody of the dioceses of Tyler and Corpus Christi, Bishop Emeritus Michael Pfeifer of the Diocese of San Angelo, Bishop Emeritus David Fellhauer of Victoria, and Auxiliary Bishop Michael Boulette.

A Fourth Degree Knights of Columbus Honor Guard was also present for the send-off of their longtime member and chaplain.

During his homily, Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller, MSpS, said he was sure the congregation had many different thoughts and emotions as they gathered to celebrate the funeral rites for Bishop Flanagan. “We feel joy at having known a man so kind, so generous, and so giving that he has been a true example of what it means to live a Christian life! We feel the pain of his absence as he has departed from us, because we have loved him, and we know he has loved us! We feel hope because he is in the hands of God the Father’s grace, and we look forward to sharing that life of grace in heaven with Bishop Tom, especially on the day of the resurrection!”

The archbishop said that no one was more surprised at having been called to be a bishop than Father Tom Flanagan, and that was truly an act of obedience for him to accept the calling. “But his fellow priests were not surprised at all! He was known among them as a priests’ priest -- meaning that he truly lived out the meaning of sacrifice, availability, and dedication called forth by the gift of ordination,” the archbishop explained. “Other priests sought him out for his spiritual guidance, and they trusted his word because they knew that he was sincere. And so when he was named an auxiliary bishop for San Antonio to assist Archbishop Flores, there was a feeling of real joy among his brother priests.”

Through his years of service in many parishes Bishop Tom grew close to the lay people of the archdiocese. He helped to support the Knights of Columbus as their long-time chaplain. He helped to found the Charismatic Center for the archdiocese by offering guidance and shape to the spirit of renewal in the Church. The bishop was known to spend many nights and weekends hearing confessions on retreats until the late hours of the night. “He saw the lay people as true partners in the life and mission of the church,” Archbishop Gustavo said in describing Bishop Tom. “In this sense he embodied the real spirit of the Second Vatican Council’s vision of the church as a pilgrim people, journeying into the life of Christ together.”

Bishop Tom made the famous saying of St. Augustine something very real, the San Antonio prelate exclaimed, quoting, “With you I am a Christian; for you I am a bishop.”

In the reading at the funeral liturgy from the Gospel of John, Jesus says that he came not to do his own will, but the will of the one who sent him. IT is the spirit of true obedience. Not to impose one’s self and one’s own ideas and ways, but rather to do the will of God the Father.

The Missionary of the Holy Spirit recalled that Tom Flanagan felt the call not only to the priesthood, but to offer himself to come to San Antonio, Texas, as a missionary priest. He was ordained to serve in a place he had not seen, and to work among a people he had never met. San Antonio would prove to be a far-away place from green and gentle Ireland, and show itself to be a place of hard-scrabble farms and ranches, a land rich in its Catholic roots, but very divided in its ethnic and racial realities.

“It would take some getting used to!” the archbishop acknowledged. “But Tom’s obedience to the call of the Holy Spirit was such that there was no turning back for him. No turning away from this challenge of helping the church to grow, expand, and deepen its holiness as God’s People in this place.”

“You see,” he told the capacity congregation at Bishop Flanagan’s former pastorate, “Tom believed that his life was not his own, but rather, that it belonged to God, and that God has great plans for the human person.”

Archbishop Gustavo read from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans, “If we live, we live for the Lord. And if we die, we die for the Lord.” “Why?” he asked, responding, “Because God has a great destiny for us! God has a great destiny for every human person, whether he or she be rich or poor, sick or well, important in the eyes of the world or not.”

That destiny, he added, is expressed in St. John’s vision expressed in the Book of Revelation. The destiny is the New Jerusalem, as the bride of Christ, descending from the heavens where God dwells with the human race, where every tear is dried, where there is no more death or mourning, and where the old order has passed away, where Christ is the Alpha and the Omega. “It was this vision that inspired Tom Flanagan, a country boy from Ireland who became a successor to the Apostles in a far-away land called Texas!” the archbishop smiled.

He stressed that, while we feel the natural human sting of grief at Bishop Flanagan’s passing, we are filled with joy for our brother Tom, who wears the crown of victory in Christ! Archbishop Gustavo emphasized, “And, we are inspired by hope! Hope that we too will share the blessings of heaven! Hope that the Church will truly live up to her calling to be God’s holy People! Hope that the kindness and selfless service Bishop Tom embodied is something that we can imitate! Hope that we will be as obedient to the One who sends us as was Bishop Tom.”

At the ambo, the archbishop pointed out to attendees that they were surrounded by the signs of Bishop Tom’s incorporation into Christ through his baptism (the holy water, the paschal candle, the white garments), and his ordination as priest and bishop (his vestments).

“Most especially we gather around our brother in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, the foretaste of the promise of the life to come,” he concluded. “Let this Eucharist renew our hearts. Let this Eucharist make our hearts obedient to the One who sends us!”

Bishop Flanagan will be interred in the cemetery of his home parish in Ireland, and the recessional at St. Brigid was fitting of a son of the Emerald Isle, “Lady of Knock.”