The Origins of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity
“To you, the mystery of the reign of God has been confided” (Mk 4:11)
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 it in extraordinary ways. These souls are the ones chosen by God for great works in the Church and in the world of their day.
The Planting of a Seed
Father James Flanagan 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 world around it.
An Inspiration Takes Root
While a seminarian, Father was given a deep understanding regarding the founding and work of the Society of Our Lady 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 expressly being done. If there was to be a spiritual transfusion, the whole Church had to receive it. He understood that 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 the Society of Our Lady, which comes from the Gospels and is based in the discipleship of Jesus and Mary, deepened. The mandate to go and make disciples of all 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 our “Mother in the order of grace,” (Lumen gentium, 61). Father Flanagan knew that her mediation, which “shows the power of Christ” (Lumen gentium, 62) would bring this grace into the world. He knew he needed to find a way to live according to her life of exemplary faith and charity.
During this time, Father also received an inspiration that the Society of Our Lady should go to the Southwest United States, the Philippines, and Spain. He understood 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.
A Shoot Springs Forth
After his ordination in the Archdiocese of Boston on January 10, 1952, Father sought permission to begin the work of the Society of Our Lady. 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 really from God, it would grow.
In the meantime, he was assigned as an assistant pastor in St. Elizabeth’s parish in Milton, 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, Father Flanagan returned to the Cardinal’s office in order 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 his new work.
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. Upon arrival, Archbishop Byrne introduced Father Flanagan to Father John McHugh, whose particular love for the Blessed Mother was an indication that their shared charism would be manifested in most beautiful way.
On July 16, 1958, the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity was officially established by Archbishop Byrne as a Pious Union.