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About Our Founder

“To you, the mystery of the reign of God has been confided.”

T hough 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.

Fr. Flanagan has never claimed to be the Founder of Our Lady’s Society. He has always pointed to Our Blessed Mother as the Foundress. It is her Society. Nevertheless, he has been her chosen instrument. The story of Fr. Flanagan’s encounter with Venerable Solanus Casey bears witness to this. It is told in Father’s own words. In speaking of the Canticle of Simeon, which is prayed daily at Night Prayer, and in which Simeon says: “Now Lord you can let your servant go in peace….” (Luke 2: 29), Father says:

“I had a very, very deep experience of this mystery and these words of the Holy Spirit in my own life. When I was just beginning to prepare for Our Lady’s Society, I was told by a priest, Fr. Keane was his name, a Servite priest up in Chicago, that he wanted me to go up to Detroit to see a Franciscan priest whose name was Fr. Solanus Casey and who was very renowned for his holiness of life. I said I would be happy to do that. I left Chicago and went up to Detroit and went to this monastery of the Capuchin Franciscans. I asked if I could come to visit Fr. Solanus and the porter said that would be fine. He said that he would show me to the room of Fr. Solanus and then he would get me a little place where I could stay. I came to his room and found him with one of the Franciscan Brothers. He was tuning up his fiddle. He said 'Father, it’s good to see you.' He had a very ascetic room, one little desk and chair and a bed and that’s it. He said, 'Do you mind if I play a little hymn for Brother? I told him I would play for him.' So I listened to his hymn and then the Brother left. Then he said, 'Can I help you Father?' I said 'Yes, Fr. Keane sent me here from Chicago.' So I told him about Our Lady’s Society and what was happening in the Church. Actually, he spoke the same words that Simeon spoke. That was his answer when I told him about Our Lady’s Society in the Church. He said, 'Now you can dismiss your servant, Lord, according to your words, for my eyes have seen the gift that you have promised, there before the face of all people.’ I visited with him, prayed with him, and had three days with him, and then I left. Very, very shortly thereafter he died.”
Fr. Flanagan with His Holiness Pope John Paul II

Fr. Flanagan with His Holiness Pope John Paul II

In 2002, Fr. Flanagan celebrated the 50th anniversary of his ordination to the Sacred Priesthood, and on July 16. 2008, he celebrated the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity at a Mass in Corpus Christi Cathedral, with Bishop Edmond Carmody and Bishop Emeritus Rene H. Gracida.

Father currently resides in Robstown, TX.

To read more about Father Flanagan and the fasinating beginning of The Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, purchase the book Our Lady's Family by sending a check payable to the "Society of Our Lady" for $20 (+$5 shipping if necessary) to PO Box 536; Bosque, NM 87006. The book may also be purchased online.

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