St. Matthew’s Rev. Flynn celebrates 60th anniversary

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St. Matthew’s Rev. Flynn celebrates 60th anniversary
Rev. James Flynn celebrates the 60th anniversary of his ordination on Sunday, June 9 at St. Matthew parish center. (Photo/ Thomas Grillo)

SOUTHBOROUGH – For the Rev. James Flynn, there wasn’t a moment when he decided to join the priesthood. 

The 85-year-old pastor of St. Matthew in Southborough said it was a series of reflections since he was a teenager and not a “calling” that brought him to the church.

“It evolved,” Flynn said. “God didn’t come down and sit on my shoulder and whisper in my ear. My Catholic education had a substantial impact on me. I had tremendous admiration for the priests and nuns in Arlington where I grew up. And my mother, who attended daily Mass, had a tremendous faith and that dramatically affected me.”

On June 9, Flynn and the St. Matthew community will celebrate the 60th anniversary of his ordination into the priesthood. The observance will be held at the parish center at 2 p.m.

Patricia Lally, a longtime parishioner, said when Flynn joined the parish in 1993, there were fewer than five dozen families and it was losing members. Today, she said, there are more than 600, and it’s all thanks to Flynn.

“In addition to Southborough, parishioners come from Northborough, Berlin and Holliston all because of Father Flynn,” she said. “He’s brought so many teenagers back to the parish. The thing that strikes me the most is he lives in the real world, he understands people, and treats everyone so kindly. If you need somebody for support, he’s there for that.”

The other factor, she said, is Flynn has mastered the 35-minute Mass and is convinced the briefer the sermon the better. 

“One time, my son, who was a teenager at the time, actually timed the Mass,” she recalled. “And when Mass was over, Father Flynn asked him, ‘Was I fast enough for you?’ ”

Flynn has a unique ability to relate to persons of all ages, Lally said. 

“If you need a good laugh, he’s there to laugh with you,” she said. “And he brings God, which is his job, into the picture in a very simple and understanding way.”

Born in 1938, the son of Robert J. and Helen Flynn, he attended Elm Bank, the Stigmatine Fathers’ seminary in Wellesley, and graduated from Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. with a BA in 1960 and a graduate degree in theology four years later.  

He was ordained at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., in 1964. After his service as a lecturer in religious studies at Catholic University, he was appointed dean of students for the Stigmatine Fathers, while directing the guidance department of the former Elizabeth Seton High School in Wellesley.

In 1980, he received a doctorate in the history and philosophy of education from Boston College. His goal, Flynn said, was to teach. 

“I never thought I would serve in a parish and to tell you the truth I didn’t want to,” he recalled. “But my experiences in a variety of parishes, where for the first time I went to people’s homes to anoint them, were extraordinary.”

Among the problems facing the Catholic Church today, Flynn said, is the number of priests is shrinking, in part, because marriage is prohibited.  

Between 1970 and 2023, the number of priests has declined by 3% despite a large increase in the number of Catholics, according to the Vatican. One of the major reasons, Flynn said, is celibacy. He favors allowing priests to marry and also supports the ordination of women.  

“Women should be equal to men in the Catholic Church,” he said. “They have made tremendous contributions and deserve to be on par with men.”

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