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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Founding of Our Lady's Society

Though Jesus spoke these words to His disciples 2000 years ago, He continues to speak them to His disciples today. These words seem to apply in a special way to holy men and women, Saints and Founders, in the depths of whose souls they strike a profound chord and unfold in extraordinary ways. These souls are the ones chosen by God for great works in the Church and in the world of their day.

Father James Flanagan (born May 29, 1924, in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts) was drawn into these very mysteries of the reign of God from his early boyhood. Through the example of his own father, James H. Flanagan, Sr., he cultivated a love for Jesus in the Eucharist at an early age. He was prepared for the work of founding the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity beforehand by a particularly intimate and personal relationship with God and by a love for Our Blessed Mother that deepened profoundly in his family life and during his years in school.

Father also developed a deep love for the Church and was taught many things interiorly concerning the way God cares for His Church. He saw that when the Church was in need of renewal or a spiritual transfusion, God Our Father always gave the gift of His own Son. And this gift renewed the Church and the world around it.

Fr. Flanagan (left)
While a seminarian Father was given a deep understanding regarding the founding and work of Our Lady’s Society through a series of intellectual illuminations which were very strong. The idea especially of working in teams began to grow. He observed that in the world, in sports, in the military, in education, etc., everyone worked in teams, but in the Church this was not being done. If there was to be a spiritual transfusion, the whole Church had to receive it. He understood that the priests were to be the foundation of the Society, but also that the other vocations complement each other and, bring a fullness of witness and efficacy to the work of the Church, so he began to envision teams–not just of priests-–but of priests with religious and laity as well.

The spirituality of Our Lady’s Society, which comes from the Gospels and is based in discipleship of Jesus and Mary, deepened. The mandate to go and make disciples of all the nations, to convert the whole world to Christ, became compelling. Father’s own relationship with God continued to intensify through his consecration to Our Lady and his relationship with her. He understood that if there was to be a real spiritual transfusion in the Church, it would come through grace. Our Lady is full of grace and the keeper of all graces. Father Flanagan knew she would share those graces with us. And he realized that we needed to find the way to live her life in order to bring this grace into the world.

During this time Father also received a light from Our Lady in which he understood the Society of Our Lady should go to the Southwest of the United States, the Philippines, and Spain. Our Lady showed him that these three places could be springboards of missionary activity. From the Southwest of the United States one could go into both North and South America. From the Philippines one could go into Asia. From Spain the Society could launch missionary activity into both Europe and Africa.

After his ordination in the Archdiocese of Boston on January 10, 1952, Father sought permission to begin the work of Our Lady’s Society. He met with the secretary to the Cardinal, Monsignor Riley. Because he was newly ordained he was advised to wait five years to see if the inspiration for this new community was really from God. He was told that if the inspiration was from God it would grow.

During this time, he was assigned as an assistant pastor in St. Elizabeth’s parish in Milton, Massachusetts. After a year and a half he was assigned to St. Patrick’s parish in Lowell, Massachusetts. It was there that Father gave spiritual direction for the next three years to several women, among whom three became the first religious sisters in the future Society of Our Lady: Alice Dinneen (later to be known as Sister Mary of Saint James), Anna Kiernan (later, Sister Mary of the Incarnation), and Ann Mansfield (later, Sister Mary of the Redemption).

At the end of the fifth year, Fr. Flanagan returned to the Cardinal’s Office in order to discuss again his inspiration to found a new Society in the Church. This time he met with Cardinal Cushing himself. The Cardinal was favorable and released Father Flanagan from the Archdiocese of Boston so that he could begin this new work.

Fr. Flanagan, Bishop Byrne, and Fr. McHugh
Fr. Flanagan with Bishop Byrne and Fr. McHugh
Archbishop Edwin V. Byrne of Santa Fe invited Father Flanagan to come to his archdiocese to begin this work. Father left Boston to travel to New Mexico on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 1957.

At the direction of Archbishop Byrne, Father Flanagan met Father John McHugh and knew quickly that Father John was the one whom he could work with to begin Our Lady’s Society because of his particular love for and relationship to Our Blessed Mother and his own Trinitarian relationships as well.

On July 16, 1958, Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity was officially established by Archbishop Byrne as a Pious Union.