Sister Profile: Rosemary Flanigan
“Who could imagine a better life?” Sister Rosemary Flanigan stated when asked about her life with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Sister Rosemary, 88, shares her life and experiences now as she recounts first hearing God’s call to join the CSJs, her step into history during the Civil Rights Movement, her days of teaching and her work in bioethics.
S. Rosemary gives all the credit to the people in her life. “We become the congeries of relationships that make up our lives and I think of how blessed I have been by so many of those relationships.”
What was your motivation in entering the CSJ community?
I had always wanted to be a sister. I can't even remember seeing my first nun, but it must have been the Mercy Sisters who came down to Liberty, Missouri to prepare us for the sacraments. Years later, I had spent 6th and 7th grades at St. Francis Xavier School in Kansas City and the BVMs had captured my heart.
So after four years at a public high school, my dad and I went over to the College of St. Teresa one evening and he asked Mother Simplicia Daley for a scholarship for me. She simply replied, "Yes." There was no asking for a financial rundown or postponing a decision while she sought a committee's recommendation. She said, "Yes," and I went through four years at the college--utterly luxuriating in the small school atmosphere, the caring outreach of the nuns, the camaraderie of my fellow students--until I emerged a changed person.
People do not believe me when I tell them I was shy, but I was. And those four years gave me a confidence I never knew I had and an assurance that I counted in the overall scheme of things. I literally loved going to school--the friendships with Sisters John Marie, St. Luke, Henrietta Eileen, and many others, were life-giving. I still loved the BVMs, but the CSJs had captured my heart.
How did you know you made the right decision in becoming part of the CSJ community?
I am 88 now, retired and living in my hometown, Kansas City, with Sister Paddy Lorenz with whom I've lived since coming to Avila in 1968. I know I made the right decision to be a CSJ because life has turned out so well for me.
Imagine being my age, taking only two medications (a couple of years ago, it was none), and not having a single pain. Imagine spending almost 50 years teaching philosophy, both with the 18-25 year-old crowd and then doing ethics with healthcare providers.
Who could imagine a better life? I've taught with some of the finest people God put on this earth and I've lived--and am living-- through some of the most challenging times in our history.
What would you say has been the most rewarding time during your service as a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet?
My whole life has been "most rewarding." Even the six years I spent teaching English in high school have led to a life-time of friendships with former students! And I loved teaching philosophy in college. It was something they have never had before, and I so enjoyed turning them on to philosophical reflection, asking the big questions, making stabs at some workable answers.
But it was the 18 years after I retired from Rockhurst University, when I was asked to join the staff of the Center for Practical Bioethics and taught adults how to be good ethics committee members, that opened an entirely new world for me. I didn't know if I could teach adults. Would they learn if I didn't have a "test" to threaten them with? It was a marvelous experience, and the Center showered me with opportunities, challenges and rewards. There is a Flanigan chair and a Flanigan lecture series. I feel thoroughly spoiled by all those people with whom I was privileged to serve.
Do you have any "Aha!" moments that gave you a new perspective on the world?
Can one have an aha! moment without knowing it was one at the time? If so, then I had one in March 1965 when Sister Roberta Schmidt knocked on my door and asked if I'd go with her to Selma, Alabama the next day.
From the news, I had some idea of what was going on in the South with efforts to register poor blacks so they could vote and had seen images of "Bloody Sunday" two days before when peaceful marchers had been attacked by police and national guardsmen on foot and on horseback and indiscriminately and brutally clubbed. TV was new in 1965 and those images had been captured on national networks causing shock and revulsion around the nation.
The following day when the priests from the St. Louis Archdiocesan Commission on Human Rights met on Lindell Avenue, the men were discussing what they had seen when Joseph Cardinal Ritter stopped by the door to listen. He then asked, "What are you going to do about it?" And Father Thomas Doyle, executive secretary of the commission, said, "We're going there."
Fr. John Shocklee, pastor of St. Bridget's parish, agreed to go and to bring with him the two Sisters of Loretto who lived in an inner-city apartment house with some of their students. The Sisters of St. Mary received their call at 6:00 p.m. and Sister Eugene Marie, administrator of St. Mary's Infirmary, told Fr. Doyle that she and Sister Antona would gladly accompany the group. Fr. Doyle's call to Sister Roberta, chairman of the Sociology Department at Fontbonne, came about 8:00 p.m. and she knocked on my door to ask if I'd go with her before calling Sister Joan Marie Gleason for permission.
The next morning, 54 of us, mostly priests, some Protestant clergy friends and a couple of rabbis together with six nuns boarded two TWA planes for a trip, the repercussions of which still impinge on my life.
What would you say is the most important societal or worldly problem we face? Why?
This is a hard one. I want to say violence because violence is so part of our society world-wide, and it leads to such evil. It is found individually and communally; it is found in every part of the world. But so is hatred—and hatred often leads to violence. Imagine our world without violence, without hatred. That just might be close to heaven.
If you could address all people, what would you say to them?
What would be better than to love one another? So much injustice in the world is caused by perceived hurts—which often are not hurts at all—perceived injustices, perceived slights, etc.
What if we faced one another positively rather than looking for flawed characters and evil behaviors. The human person is such a divine product with potential that reaches to the stars; yet so often we get bogged down hating the neighbor next door. How unbelievably sad.
How do you spend your spare time?
I have lots of it now that I am retired—and I spend it volunteering at St. Teresa’s Academy in the archives two mornings a week, and keeping up with my emailing. And then there is reading. I do love to read and many a pleasurable hour is thus spent.
What is your favorite book or movie?
Too hard of hearing for movies any more but thank the heavens for libraries! I love British women mystery writers.
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you like to live?
Where else but where I live now—in Kansas City, Mo, my hometown, surrounded by our sisters’ good works—the academy, Avila, the hospital—and all the people who have helped us with those institutions throughout the years. Nothing pleases me more than to see good lay people carry on our mission and do it so splendidly.
What experiences have shaped you as a religious person?
They simply can't be counted. Every person I have taught and taught with, every chalk mark and page turned and word uttered have formed the woman I am today. We become the congeries of relationships that make up our lives and I think of how blessed I have been by so many of those relationships.