Cardinal Seán's Blog

Cardinal Seán O’Malley shares his reflections and experiences

Remembering Tom Flatley

Hello again and welcome back,

I begin this week noting the passing of an extraordinary man. Tom Flatley, who had been suffering for almost two years with Lou Gehrig’s disease, passed away last week. I was very pleased to be able to celebrate his funeral Mass at St. Agatha Parish in Milton where he attended Mass each day.

Tom was a very, very dedicated Catholic. He used to say that his only job was to get to heaven and to take as many people with him as he could.


Over the course of his life Tom helped countless people. He had a great passion to help the poor and he did so much to help Catholic causes — locally and throughout the whole world. His death was mourned by many, but the witness of his Catholic life — the centrality of the Eucharist, his spirituality and the strong family life that he lived and witnessed to — is a legacy that the Archdiocese of Boston will always cherish.

Before the funeral Mass, I was in the sacristy with Bishop George Coleman, who came up from Fall River, and he mentioned to me that he had been speaking to the Missionaries of Charity. They told him that they had called the Flatleys to let them know that they were praying for them. His wife, Charlotte, was speaking to the sisters on the phone, but the sister said she could hear Tom Flatley in the background saying, “Tell the sisters I am going to see Mother Teresa.” I’m sure he has.

I’d like to share with you the homily I delivered at Tom’s funeral Mass:

First of all, I want to tender my condolences to Charlotte and the entire Flatley Family. We are here above all to pray for Tom. That is what he would want. Tom Flatley certainly embodied the injunction of St. Ignatius of Loyola who said – “Pray as if everything depended on God, work as if everything depended on you.”

It is hard to imagine anyone with a stronger work ethic or a stronger faith. One of Tom’s foremen, commenting on Tom’s involvement in whatever work was being done, said Tom did not consider any work below him. If there was a paper cup on the lawn in front of a building, and Mr. Flatley got to it before you did, you were going to have a bad day. Tom Flatley could be demanding, but he was most demanding on himself. He was a simple man in his taste and lifestyle eschewing any pomp and pretense. Tom was a man with a clear vision of life, a profound faith and passionate love for what really mattered to him: his family, his Church, his community, his work, his native Ireland, his adopted country, the countless causes he supported to make this world a better place.

Tom left his mark in many places, all over the globe, but mostly in the hearts of his loved ones and friends. We are all going to miss him.

Last year, when I ordained the new Jesuit priests at St. Ignatius, I read them this paragraph from Father Arrupe’s writings where he speaks about falling in love with God. I think these powerful words describe Tom and what made him tick.

Falling in Love with God

Nothing is more practical than finding God,
That is, than falling in love
in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination,
will affect everything.
It will decide what will get you
out of bed in the morning,
what you will do with your evenings,
how you will spend your weekends
what you read, who you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you
with joy and gratitude.
Fall in love, stay in love,
And it will decide everything.

Tom Flatley fell in love, stayed in love, and it did decide everything.

Tom Flatley was a very practical man who found God early on. And in discovering God’s love, Tom discovered who he was, and why he was here on earth and how he should lead his life.

In the Middle Ages in Ireland, there were many persons who made a vow to be a peregrinus, a pilgrim, to wander the earth. They made a vow to never sleep two nights in the same place. They went from one shrine or holy well, or mountain or chapel to another, spreading the faith near and far.

The Irish people supported them with alms, both because these pilgrims evangelized but also because their way of life reminded everyone that we are all pilgrims and strangers in this world.

Tom understood this concept very clearly. He never lost sight of the fact that we are in this world on a temporary visa and at the end of our sojourn we get to go home. In Tom’s case, it was a “work visa.”

In today’s society, nothing could be considered more tragic than to amass great wealth and achieve the highest success and then to die. Tom, on the other hand, was a believer. Tom knew life is not a dress rehearsal; he lived it to the fullest. He knew that death is a part of the journey homeward, that “life is not ended but changed.” Jesus teaches us that death is like a grain of wheat that falls to the earth and dies and then comes forth in abundant new grain. Jesus describes death as His returning to fetch us and take us back to the Father with Him. St. Francis speaks of Sister Death who leads us to God.

Faith allows us to make sense even out of the Cross; and the Cross did come for Tom in these last two years in the terrible disease that robbed him of his strength, his independence, and finally his mobility, his speech, his very breath. He carried his cross with a dignity and courage, born of his faith. During that time the love and support of Charlotte and the whole family was a great blessing to Tom. It allowed him to experience how much his family loves him and thus to glimpse God’s love.

Some people might try to define Tom Flatley by his wealth, but those of us who know and love him realize that it is his faith in God and his love for his family that define him.

Tom was from County Mayo. In Ireland when Mayo is named it is always accompanied by the phrase: “God help us.” Two of the most important religious places of Ireland are found in this County. The first is Croagh Patrick, the mountain where Patrick spent the 40 days of Lent in the year 441. The legend is that the saint from that mountain drove the snakes out of Ireland. (My relatives from Mayo have a theory about what island those snakes went to, but I will not bore you with that). In Mayo is also the great Shrine of Our Lady of Knock. It marks the place of a Marian Apparition during a tragic period in Irish history. The unique feature of Mary’s apparition at Knock is that she does not speak. Some would say that is because the Irish don’t let you get a word in edgewise. I like to think that the suffering people of Mayo were much more open to a loving presence than to words and commentary.

The faith of the Irish is born of the austerity of Patrick and the Irish monks and pilgrims of Croagh Patrick and Loch Derg, St. Patrick’s Purgatory. It was an heroic faith, willing to endure dungeon, fire, and sword rejecting the soup offered by the British during the “An Gorta Mor,” the Great Hunger. It is also a faith with a keen social consciousness, a sense of responsibility especially for the poor, the sick, the needy.

Tom Flatley’s faith was very practical. If people needed help, you should help them. Today’s Gospel gives us Jesus’ parable about the Last Judgement where the Lord, the Good Shepherd is separating the sheep from the goats. “I was hungry and you gave me to eat, I was thirsty, sick, homeless and you helped me.” The question on the lips of all the people, both those categorized as sheep as well as the goats is the same: “When did we see you hungry?” And Jesus answers, “when you did this for the least of your brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me.” – I often tell the story of Cardinal Spellman…

One day he was in his office and received a call on the intercom. It was the new receptionist. “Your Eminence,” she said: “there is a man here in the lobby who says he is Jesus Christ. What should I do?” The Cardinal replied: “Look busy!”

The homeless schizophrenic off his meds is Christ in a distressing disguise, as Mother Theresa used to say. Tom Flatley always recognized Jesus in the distressing disguise of the hungry, of an unwed mother, a homeless family, an impoverished missionary, or of a teen struggling with addiction.

As Tom presents himself before his maker and his redeemer, his good works will accompany him. Tom will not be a stranger before his God.

Tom had incredible drive, and capacity for work, business acumen and sense of competition. But looking at Tom’s long full life, we must say that the most important decision he ever made was to marry Charlotte Flatley. What a blessing that marriage has been to Tom, to his children, and to countless others.

And there can be no doubt that the other anchor in Tom’s life was his love for the Mass. Receiving Holy Communion each day nourished his love for God, for his family, for his neighbor especially his love for the poor. Jesus Christ made a promise that Tom believed with every fiber of his being. Jesus said: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever.” Tom will live forever. He is no stranger to the Lord. Tom met the Lord in the Eucharist where our God makes a gift of Himself to us, and Tom met the Lord in the hungry, the sick, the homeless ones that he helped so generously. The Gospel enjoins us that “when we give alms, let not the right hand know what the left hand is doing.” In Tom’s case, he did not let the thumb know what the index finger was doing. We will never know how many people Tom Flatley fed, clothed, housed, and educated. We will never know, but his deeds are recorded in the Book of Life. No, Tom does not present himself before his God as a stranger, but as a faithful disciple.

It was my privilege to pray the Rosary with Tom just before he passed away. We commend his soul to Mary the Mother of the Good Shepherd, Our Lady of Knock.
“Tom, my friend, you have fought the good fight, you have run the race, you have kept the faith.”

May the angels lead you into paradise.
May the martyrs come to receive you and lead you
into the holy city, Jerusalem.
May the choirs of angels receive you,
and where Lazarus is poor no longer
there may you have eternal rest.

– – –

Over the weekend I was at Mission Church in Boston for two ceremonies with the Franciscan Friars of the Primitive Observance — one, a Mass of profession of perpetual vows, and the other an ordination. Both celebrations were very beautiful, and it is always a joy to have Mass in the basilica, which is one of our most beautiful churches. The Redemptorist community there is doing such important ministry in that part of the archdiocese.


The Mass of profession

The friars’ family members were able to be there as well as many of the members of their third order fraternity who served and participated in the ceremony and provided the music.

The friars’ community here is very small, but they are very intent on living the life of contemplation and austerity. Their presence is a great blessing for our diocese.


The ordination

This month is a great joy for me because I have four ordinations: this ordination of the friars, the presbyteral ordination for our archdiocese, the ordination of new Capuchin priests and the ordination of our new permanent deacons at the end of the month.

– – –

On Saturday, I went to Lowell for they were celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Franco-American School, which began as an orphanage. The Oblates and the Sisters of Charity of Quebec have always been the ones sponsoring this institution that has done so much good in Lowell.

The school’s venue is a beautiful house with lovely grounds.


Located on the property is a beautiful grotto, which is a replica of the shrine at Lourdes, France. The Mass was held outdoors there. It had been raining all night, but as soon as the Mass started, the sun came out and everyone was so pleased.


They had two choirs who sang many beautiful French hymns.


The principal, Sister Lorraine Richard, was so gracious and the Mass was very well-attended. There were over 500 people.




– – –

On Sunday, I had a beautiful parish Mass at St. Ann Parish in Somerville. Their English, Haitian and Hispanic choirs sang wonderfully. The church was filled, and it was a very joyous celebration.

– – –

On Monday, I went to Boston College to give the invocation at their commencement ceremony. It was a wonderful celebration; the day could not have been nicer.



David McCullough

David McCullough received an honorary doctorate and gave the keynote address.

He has won Pulitzer Prizes for his historical books — his biographies of Harry S. Truman and John Adams. He has also written extensively on the colonial period in the United States and George Washington. He lives at Martha’s Vineyard, but he is originally from Pittsburgh.

As I say, sometimes writers are great writers and not very good as speakers, but McCullough was a most engaging speaker. He gave a beautiful reflection on the real meaning of education. He was very witty, very erudite. Certainly, it was a wonderful choice to honor him.


Father William Neenan was presented with an honorary degree and the rest of the recipients were graduates of Boston College. One those whom they honored was a member of my own community, Brother Celestino Arias. Brother Tino founded Catholic Charities Cape Verdean program here in Boston and did so much with Cape Verdean youth.The other honorees were Jennie Chin Hansen and Anne Jones.

I told Father Leahy that I think holding up graduates who have done such positive work in the service of humanity with their careers is a wonderful idea. They can serve as role models and inspiration for the young people graduating this year.


Brother Tino

– – –

Also on Monday, I went to the wake of Sister Catherine Mulkerrin at the motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Brighton.


Sister, of course, had been the president of the congregation. She has also been involved in many different ministries in the archdiocese, including teaching. For a number of years she was involved in dealing with the victims of sexual abuse by the clergy. Her role in that was one of great compassion and advocacy.

– – –

This week I had two mini-days of recollection — one for pastoral associates on Tuesday and the other for business managers on Thursday. I celebrated the Eucharist for them, and afterward we had lunch.

It is very important that the people involved in these activities see their work as being a very special service to the mission of the Church. Attending to their own interior lives enhances the way that they fulfill their roles. I was very edified by the beautiful witness talks that were given on Tuesday.

– – –

Later that day, I celebrated Mass for the Mariological Society of America’s 59th annual meeting. The society is a Catholic theological association dedicated to the study and making known the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the mystery of Christ and the Church. The three-day event was held at Holy Cross Family Ministry’s Father Peyton Center in North Easton.



Some photos of the altar servers and their families





On Tuesday they also honored one of their members, Ronald Novotny, with the Cardinal Wright Mariological Award.

– – –

On Wednesday, we had a fine celebration for the graduates of the Master of Arts in Ministry Program, which does so much good.


The MAM graduates, faculty, staff and honored guests at the commencement

It not only prepares lay ministers in the Church intellectually but gives them needed spiritual formation. It is not only a matter of imparting information but of helping people deepen their faith and understanding of revelation.

Each year, the graduation ceremony is held at St. John’s Seminary in Brighton because the program is a part of the seminary.


Sister Mary Pierre Jean Wilson is the head of the program, which comes under seminary rector Father Arthur Kennedy. They, along with various professors and guests, filled the chapel.

This year there were two speakers. The keynote was Dr. E. Joanne Angelo, a Catholic psychiatrist who gave a beautiful witness about her life and her family.


Dr. Angelo



Seminary rector Father Arthur Kennedy

Then one of the graduates, Heather Hannaway, also gave a very wonderful address on lay ministry.


Student speaker Heather Hannaway




Aldona Lingertat, associate director of the MAM program


Congratulating Roseann Furbush as she receives her degree


I offered some brief remarks before delivering the final benediction



Sheila St. Sauveur and her grandchildren Nathaniel, Gabriel and Madeline

– – –

Later that evening, I attended the Catholic Charities Spring Gala. They were very pleased to raise $1.5 million for their programs. Catholic Charities serves over 200,000 people in the Boston area through their programs for basic needs. At the dinner, there was a wonderful video presentation with many testimonials about the important work of the organization.



The new president of Catholic Charities, Tiziana Dearing, gave a very inspiring talk as did a former client, Bernice Gordon, who is now an employee of Catholic Charities. Bernice gave a beautiful witness talk about her life and how it was turned around through her contact with Catholic Charities.


They honored Edmund “Ted” Kelly, Catholic Charities chairman and president and CEO of Liberty Mutual Group.


Ted Kelly

He is a local businessman and philanthropist who immigrated from northern Ireland. He is a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and has been a very important figure in the local scene as well as a big supporter of so many different charities.


His brother was a Passionist priest and a minister to Africa for many years. Ted was there with his wife, Debby, his daughter and his son-in-law.

– – –

Thursday, I met with Father David Michael and a number of people from the American Jewish Committee. It was a very cordial meeting, and we have very good relations with the Jewish community here in Boston.

I am very grateful to Father David Michael and Father Ed O’Flaherty for all that they do.

They spoke about their desire to have greater opportunity for dialogue, particularly the possibility of bringing Catholics and Jews together to look at our scripture texts in order to build a deeper understanding of each others’ faith. We agreed that we would work toward that goal.


Until next week, I wish you all a wonderful Memorial Day weekend and remember in your prayers the seven men who will be ordained tomorrow at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. May the Lord bless them and make them holy priests.

Cardinal Seán