“Fr Jim passed into eternal life on Holy Thursday morning, the day of the institution of the priesthood and the Eucharist, at exactly 1am. He was surrounded by priests, sisters and lay members of SOLT at the time of his passing. We just finished praying all 4 mysteries of the rosary and he was listening to his favorite song, O Beata Trinitas as he breathed his last. His death was incredibly peaceful – his breaths grew in space apart until they stopped all together.”
The following is a brief biography of his life from early childhood to his founding of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity:
Father James Flanagan always had a special connection to the Blessed Virgin Mary. He was born of the Feast of the Ascension on May 29, 1924. As the eldest of five children, he observed in the season of spring God’s continual gift of life in nature and through relationship.
“When I was a child, it seemed my mother was always with child during the spring season when the flowers were in bloom…and my mother would have me pick them and put them before the image of Our Lady.”
As Father Flanagan grew, this formative relationship within his earthly family carried on throughout his childhood. He witnessed his father’s love for the Church in his prayer life, centered on the Eucharist and the other Sacraments of the Church, the teachings of the Church, and a love for Mary as Mother of the Church.
“My father was really the inspiration of my life. He had a sense of the sacredness of the things of God; he would go to ordinations to the priesthood, taking his children with him. And we would all receive the newly ordained priests’ blessings at the Cathedral. Then he would take us to the Seminary to get their blessings, and then to their first Masses and again get their blessings. All this prompted my mother to say to him, ‘Jim Flanagan, you’ll bless these children out of existence!'”
Father Flanagan began his studies at the University of Notre Dame in 1941 where he played football and baseball and began discerning a call to the priesthood. His studies were interrupted by the Second World War, when in 1943 he entered the United States Navy and served in the Pacific War Zone. After the war ended in 1945, he returned to Notre Dame and worked on completing his undergraduate degree while taking courses at the law school and rejoining the football team. His last year as a member of the football team was cut short, however, when the call to the priesthood became unmistakable.
While he was on summer break at his parents’ home in West Roxbury, Massachusetts, Father Flanagan heard what he described as a direct call from God. “God said to me, ‘Son, I want you to be My priest.’ And I said ‘yes’ to Him.” When Father Flanagan told his football coach, Frank Leahy, that he was going to the seminary to study, he was impressed by his reaction. “That is the best possible life, Jim. You go.”
Father Flanagan entered St. John’s Seminary for the Archdiocese of Boston in 1947. During his years of study, an inspiration began to take root. Out of Father Flanagan’s relationship with Our Lady, he felt called to begin a Society within the Church that would emphasize relationships as flowing from the Holy Trinity with Mary as the Mother and Mediatrix of this communion. By the time Father Flanagan was ordained, he was ready to present this idea to Cardinal Cushing, but a wise monsignor told him to work for five years in the diocese before requesting to begin the endeavor of working to found a new society.
After five years, Cardinal Cushing gave Father Flanagan his blessing and permission to begin the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity. He went to see Archbishop Byrne in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and it was in that diocese that the Society began to form.
Father James Flanagan, with the help of first SOLT priest Father John McHugh, went on to establish mission teams consisting of priests, consecrated brothers and sisters, and lay people that continue to serve in dioceses throughout the United States, Central America, Europe, and Asia.
Throughout his life, Father Flanagan kept his relationship with Mary as his mother and her intimate relationship with the Holy Trinity in the forefront. This relationship bound him to Christ and his Church, and Christ’s missionary mandate: “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19).