Chinese Catholics mourn the death of Fr Flynn, a pioneer in the rebirth of Chinese seminars
The Maryknoll missionary died in New York at the age of 93. He arrived China in 1987 to teach English at local colleges. In Shanghai he was recruited by the local bishop, Aloysius Jin Luxian. “It was a joy to be among those faithful people from largely rural origins, whose families had miraculously preserved their Catholic faith amid repression,” he said about those early years. In 1991, he set up a programme that enabled many Chinese seminarians, priests and nuns to train in the United States.
Shanghai (AsiaNews) – In the past few days, many priests in mainland China have mourned with Maryknoll missionaries the death of Fr Lawrence W. Flynn who passed away on 9 July in New York.
Many of them spoke about the American priest on xinde.org, the most popular Chinese-language Catholic site. The latter published three articles dedicated to “Lin Cie-hua” (the missionary’s Chinese name) and his years of teaching in Shanghai and Beijing, above all his commitment to the China Educators and Formators Project, which since the early 1990s enabled dozens of Chinese seminarians to go to the United States to study.
Fr Flynn became a priest late in life, in 1987. Before that he worked for the Catholic Relief Services (the Catholic Church’s main charity in the United States) and the US State Department.
When China began opening up, like other missionaries, he was able to go there to teach English, first at the Suzhou Teachers College in Jiangsu province, and two years later at Fudan University in Shanghai.
"Everyone knew that I was a Catholic priest,” he wrote a few years ago. But to his surprise, “One day the president of the school summoned me to her office” and “asked me to give a lecture on the historical and cultural aspects of the Bible, which, she noted, was generally unknown in China.”
And so, “I spoke for close to two hours to a standing room only auditorium of students, fellow professors and the president. After 45 minutes of questions, students followed me out, asking to hear more.”
Soon afterwards, another request came from the authorities. The then "official" bishop of Shanghai, the Jesuit Aloysius Jin Luxian, wanted Fr Flynn to join the teaching staff of the local seminary that was reopening after 45 years.
When the Maryknoll missionary asked the Vatican what to do, they replied: “Whatever Maryknoll can do for the seminarians there is the future of the Church in China.”
Fr Flynn thus became the first foreign priest admitted to teach in a Chinese seminary and he was later asked to teach at the National Seminary in Beijing.
For him, “It was a joy to be among those faithful people from largely rural origins, whose families had miraculously preserved their Catholic faith amid repression.”
In the seminaries he took a direct approach, because most Chinese priests who had survived the great repression were elderly and unaccustomed to teaching younger priests.
Because of this, Fr Flynn set up a programme whereby Chinese seminarians would study for a certain period at US seminaries.
With the support of American cardinals and bishops, the China Educators and Formators Project was born. As many as 45 Chinese students – seminarians, deacons, priests and even nuns – went to the United States to train between 1991 and 1994.
“Today, 30 years later, most of them serve in seminaries, dioceses, parishes and church institutions in China and the United States. They serve as a blessing for the local Church, working alongside other international students the programme and those trained in other countries.”