Monday 19 November 2018

Fr Austin Flannery

Pastor, writer, editor and publisher who campaigned for social justice here and for an end to apartheid in South Africa

FR Austin Flannery, OP, who died aged 83 on October 21, 2008, added distinguished achievements as an editor, publisher and campaigner to his life's work as a preacher and pastor.

The eldest of the seven children of William K Flannery and his wife Margaret (nee Butler), Liam Flannery was born in Rear Cross, Co Tipperary, on 10 January 1925. When he joined the Dominican Order in 1943 he was given the name Austin, by which he was known for the rest of his life.

After a year at St Flannan's College, Ennis, the rest of his secondary education was at Dominican College, Newbridge, Co Kildare. He would tell of how, on arrival, he was amazed to meet priest-teachers who were affable, approachable and encouraging, and who fostered independent thought. Victor Davis, his English teacher, and one of the few lay teachers then in the college, had a lasting influence in that he insisted that students use the exact word to express what was in their minds, however difficult or long the search. This remained the guiding principle in Fr Flannery's speaking, writing, translating and editing.

First profession as a Dominican, in September 1944, led to studies in theology at St Mary's Priory, Tallaght, and then at Blackfriars, Oxford, before he was ordained a priest in 1950. After further studies at the Angelicum in Rome, he was sent to teach theology at Glenstal Abbey, Co Limerick.

In August 1957, he began what was to prove his life's work when he was appointed editor of the monthly magazine Doctrine and Life. During the years of Vatican Council II (1962-1965) he focused on the council documents and how its decisions were to be implemented. Since then, the magazine retains an interest in the need for reform. Over the years, Fr Flannery founded three other magazines, Religious Life Review (1962), Scripture in Church (1970), and Spirituality (1994). His Vatican Council II: Constitutions, Decrees, Declarations is now the standard English-language version, often cited in footnotes simply as 'Flannery'.

Along with his sense of humour, his deep acceptance of others even if he did not share their outlook was at the heart of the success of the discussion-group he led. Often referred to as 'Flannery's Harriers', this group included Sean Mac Reamoinn, Jack Dowling, John Horgan, and Desmond Fennell among regular members, and would invite visiting writers or other experts to join their lively discussions.

A passion for justice led Fr Flannery to involvement with Kader Asmal, in founding the Irish Anti-apartheid Movement, and to a commitment throughout the Seventies and Eighties to campaigning to end apartheid in South Africa. His campaign on behalf of the Dublin Housing Action Committee led to his being dismissed in the Dail by the then Minister for Finance, Charles Haughey, as "a gullible cleric". This was in reaction to a late-night television programme, Outlook, in which he departed from the usual devotional format to involve Fr Michael Sweetman, and Michael O'Riordan, secretary of the Irish Communist Party, in discussing the housing crisis in late-Sixties Dublin. To the accusation of being a communist, he would retort that sitting down with Michael O'Riordan no more made him a communist than sitting down with Michael Sweetman made him a Jesuit.

Fr Flannery had a lifelong interest in modern religious art. In 1962 he organised a Dublin exhibition of contemporary German churches. He maintained friendships with the prominent artists of late 20th century Ireland, and in 1997 he introduced the work of the Korean Dominican artist, Kim En Jong, to Ireland and the English-speaking world.

All Fr Flannery's activities were born of his strong Christian belief and Gospel commitment, and he saw them as flowing from his vocation in the Order of Preachers.

This giant of compassion and of concern for truth and reform was laid to rest in the Dominican plot at Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin, on Friday, October 24. Predeceased by his sister Breda and brother George, he is survived by his sisters Phyllis and Sadie and his brothers Paul and Jimmy.

Bernard Treacy, OP, editor Doctrine and Life

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