EAST PROVIDENCE — It was during his evangelical work in 1948 with The Christophers that the late Father Edward H. Flannery, a former managing editor of the Providence Visitor, began to do research for his later book, “The Anguish of the Jews, Twenty-Three Centuries of Anti-Semitism.” The noted work received six awards, including the National Catholic Book Award in 1966, and was translated into French, Spanish and Portuguese.
Because of his deep interest in Jewish life and the state of Israel, Father Flannery, in 1967, was appointed as the first director of Catholic-Jewish Relations for the U.S. bishop’s Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, a position he held until 1976.
Father Flannery was a member of many local, national, and international groups, often in leadership positions.
From 1969-1974, he served as a consultant to the Vatican Secretariat for Catholic-Jewish Relations. He also chaired the Israel Study Group in New York; served as president of the National Christian Leadership Conference for Israel; and as a member of the Board of American Friends at the Oxford Center for Postgraduate Hebrew Studies at Oxford University in England.
Last week, for his lifelong achievements, Father Flannery was inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame.
“Throughout his career, Father Flannery fought against anti-Semitism and defended the nation of Israel and the Jewish people against attacks on the local, national and international levels,” said Robin Tagliaferri, a Heritage Hall of Fame board member who nominated Father Flannery for induction on February 26.
“Through his work he displayed great sensitivity to issues of the Holocaust and strong promotion of education of the history of anti-Semitism, both for the Jewish and Catholic communities,” she said.
Father Flannery was born in Providence on August 20, 1912, the son of John Flannery, a police officer, and Elizabeth (Mulvey) Flannery. He attended Holy Name School and LaSalle Academy. In preparation for the priesthood, he studied at St. Charles College in Catonsville, Maryland; St. Sulpice Seminary, Issy, France; and Catholic University in Washington, D.C.
Bishop Francis P. Keough ordained him to the priesthood on May 22, 1937, at the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul.
After a summer assignment at St. Benedict Church, in Warwick, Father Flannery served as assistant pastor at the cathedral, from 1937-1938, and at St. Joseph Church, Pawtucket, from 1938-1955.
During his service at St. Joseph, he attended a summer session in 1948 at Fordham University in New York City. It was during his time there that he became involved in The Christophers, an organization spreading Catholicism by empowering people from all walks of life to realize they have a God-given purpose that belongs to no one else but them and stayed involved with the movement for several years.
“While there, he spent time in the New York City Public Library, where he did his research for his book, ‘The Anguish of the Jews,’” said Father Robert W. Hayman, Ph.D., archivist for the Diocese of Providence.
In 1955, Father Flannery was appointed assistant director of The Providence Visitor, now the Rhode Island Catholic, as well as chaplain of Elmhurst Academy, and in 1957, he became managing editor.
In 1965, Father Flannery represented The Visitor at the Fourth Session of Vatican Council II. In 1967, he became a professor at Seton Hall University, in New Jersey, where he taught at the Institute of Judeo-Christian Studies. This led to his consultancy on the Vatican Secretariat for Catholic-Jewish Relations.
In 1976, after being appointed to the staff of the U.S. bishop’s Committee on Catholic-Jewish Relations in Washington, D.C., Father Flannery returned to the diocese as director for the Continuing Education of the diocesan clergy.
Before returning, however, Father Flannery received a Benemerenti Medal from Pope Paul VI, and later, was awarded honorary doctorate degrees from Our Lady of Providence Seminary in Warwick, Seton Hall University and the Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, Ohio. He also received many awards and citations from Jewish and Christian groups, including two Brotherhood Awards in 1960 and 1965 from the National Conference for Christians and Jews.
In 1977, he received the Wallenberg Tribute Award from Muhlenberg College, in Pennsylvania, and the Sister Rose Thering Endowment for Jewish-Christian Studies Award from Seton Hall University.
Father Flannery was a prolific writer throughout his ministry, publishing numerous articles and essays in Thought, America, Sign, Ave Maria, the Journal of Ecumenical Studies, Judaism, U.S. Catholic, Continuum, Sidic, the New York Times, and The Providence Visitor. He was also a contributing columnist to the “Face of Religion” section of the Providence Journal. He translated Jacques Maritain’s De La Philopsophie Chretienne: An Essay on Christian Philosophy and Francis Mauriac’s Paroles Catholiques: Words of Faith.
In 1986, “Anguish of the Jews,” was updated and republished by Paulist Press.
In September of that year, he became the diocesan director of the Office of Catholic-Jewish Relations, retiring in February 1998.
Father Flannery died in Providence on October 19, 1998, at the age of 86. Archbishop George M. Pearce was the main celebrant at his Mass of Christian Burial on October 23. He was buried in St. Ann’s Cemetery, Cranston.
Father Flannery was one of 15 prominent Rhode Islanders inducted into the Heritage Hall of Fame who lived and died during the 20th century and who contributed significantly to Rhode Island’s heritage and development.
Patrick Conley, J.D., Ph.D., president of the R.I. Heritage Hall of Fame, who is stepping down after serving on the board for the past 20 years, welcomed the recipients and families of the inductees to the ceremony at the organization’s new headquarters in East Providence.
“The Hall of Fame recounts the achievements of its inductees and their contributions to the development of Rhode Island, America and beyond, in such a way as to make Rhode Islanders not only knowledgeable concerning our own heritage, but also intensely proud of it as well.
Other inductees at the ceremony with ties to the local Catholic community include:
Neil J. Huston (1946-1987): A star athlete at La Salle Academy and Harvard University, who became a social justice reformer and philanthropist in Massachusetts and Rhode Island and is credited with the design and implementation of the nation’s first mediation program as well as other legal reforms, particularly as they relate to incarcerated women.
Cornelius Moore (1885-1970): An influential Newport Democratic politician and lawyer to the elite who became a major donor to Salve Regina University and Providence College and founded Newport’s most prestigious law firm. The Rhode Island Publications Society produced a book on Moore’s renowned collection of American silver.
Milt Rehnquist (1897-1956): A Minnesota native and graduate of Swedish-run Bethany College in Kansas who became an All-Star NFL lineman as a member of the Providence Steam Roller. After his football career ended, he settled in Rhode Island, where he became captain of the guards at the state prison and line coach at La Salle Academy with head football coach, Jack Cronin, his NFL teammate.
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