John Thomas Flanagan Sr.

Religion . . . a complicated matter that. Best discussed with clinical reserve and much care. It can unite strangers and divide brothers. My grandfather Walker was an Anglican and a Mason. He converted to Catholicism to marry my grandmother. His family never spoke to him again.

On the other side my Grandfar, John Thomas Flanagan Sr., was raised Catholic, but his true devotion was to Ireland and Republicanism. He was a page and an ammo carrier for Michael Collins boys in the early 1900's. He contracted polio in his early teens and a priest told him it was divine retribution for his activities in support of the violent rebel cause. He never stepped foot in a Church of any kind from that day forward and refused to speak to any man wearing a Roman collar. If the priest showed up in civilian clothing, he would chat amiably. The minute the conversation turned to religion he walked away.

Our parish priest in Philadelphia was always trying to get Pop to come back to the church. I remember a conversation they had when I was a boy. Father Meyer said, 'Johnny, your soul's in jeopardy (or somesuch).'

Pop would normally have just left the room, but on that particular day he didn't. He looked the priest (a very good man this fellow and a friend to me as I grew) in the eye and said, 'Boyo, the fact that you think you know about the state of my soul is a demonstration of your own ignorance and your personal sins against God himself. I never left God, just your church. God knows my mind and hears my confession every day, He has no need for your intercession on my behalf. You should consider your own sins of Pride, rather than mulling about my own heathen nature. I'll be a good man on my own terms and leave you to yours, I don't need to be Catholic to be good.' Father Meyer never bothered him again.

My Pop was true to those words. He was a good and charitable man who could be seen mumbling a prayer to or a conversation with God on many occasions. He read the Bible so much he wore out 3 copies. He never stepped into a Church of any kind and deemed God (expressed through his own intellect and conscience) as the only religious authority.

As I said firstly . . . a complicated matter this.

--Jack Flanagan