Honoring our heroes
Saturday, October 28 was a beautiful day here in New England. The weather was unseasonably warm, the foliage season (a bit late this year) was peaking, and the full hunter’s moon was rising as we drove to Bedford, New Hampshire, for a testimonial dinner honoring two former US ambassadors to the Holy See: Raymond Flynn and Mary Ann Glendon.
Thomas More College (where—full disclosure—I am a Visiting Fellow) was hosting the event to celebrate two loyal Catholics, both natives of New England, whose faith has been clearly in evidence throughout their distinguished public careers. William Fahey, the president of the College, observed in his introductory remarks that Ambassadors Flynn and Glendon reflected something of the character of the school’s patron saint; they have both proven to be “unambiguous in their principles, very much like Thomas More.”
A testimonial dinner like this one is an effort to pay a debt of gratitude to people who have served our cause. But the event serves another purpose as well. As we look back and tell the stories of their successes, we can also look forward with new confidence, encouraged by their examples. If these people—our neighbors, our friends—accomplished so much, why can’t we do the same? In short we give our heroes the chance to inspire us one more time.
In his remarks Saturday evening, Ray Flynn described himself as an ordinary man who had extraordinary opportunities. Born in simple circumstances in South Boston (where he still lives), he became an all-American basketball player because of innate athletic talent. He became a successful politician because he likes people, likes talking to people, likes helping people. He served in the Massachusetts state legislature, the Boston city council, then as Mayor of Boston from 1984 until 1993. He was Ambassador to the Holy See from 1993 to 1997.
Flynn was no stranger to controversy. As Mary Ann Glendon pointed out later in the evening, he had come into prominence as a leader of opposition to court-ordered busing in South Boston. In the state legislature he was co-author of the Doyle-Flynn bill: the state-wide equivalent of a Hyde amendment, barring public funding for abortion. When he returned home from his service in Rome, he found that a pro-lifer was no longer welcome in the Democratic Party, and he has spent the subsequent years talking about his close friendship with St. John Paul II and insisting, as the beloved Polish Pontiff did, that “politically homeless” Catholics must always defend human dignity.
Born in Dalton, Massachusetts, Mary Ann Glendon was educated as an undergraduate and then a law student at the University of Chicago. She rose to prominence as a legal scholar, teaching first at Boston College Law School, then as the Learned Hand Professor at Harvard Law School. (For several years her name was mentioned as a potential nominee for the Supreme Court.) She too has been prominently involved in the pro-life movement, both as a constitutional theorist and as an activist.
In addition to being Ambassador the Holy See from 2008 to 2009, Glendon has served both her country and her Church in many different posts: as vice-chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom; as a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics; as president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences; and as member of the board of supervisors of the Institute for Religious Works, popularly known as the Vatican bank.
She too has been unabashed about taking strong public stands. In 2002, amid the Boston Globe’s relentless criticism of the Boston archdiocese, she remarked that “if fairness and accuracy have anything to do with it, awarding the Pulitzer Prize to the Boston Globe would be like giving the Nobel Peace Prize to Osama bin Laden.” In 2009, having been named the recipient of the Laetare Medal—the prestigious award given annually by the University of Notre Dame to a lay person for service to Church and society—she announced that she would not accept the award because Notre Dame had chosen President Barack Obama—an “uncompromising opponent of the Church’s position on issues involving fundamental principles of justice”—to speak at the commencement ceremonies.
In her address to the dinner gathering, Ambassador Glendon graciously deflected attention away from herself, expressing her admiration for Flynn, recognizing some of her old friends, and even turning the spotlight on her hosts. “We all know that American education is in deep trouble,” she said, and so she paid tribute to Thomas More College, “where the great tradition of faith and reason is being tended.”
My own involvement with Thomas More College began some years ago, when William Fahey captured my attention by saying that the mission of the College was “the re-evangelization of New England.” At the time discussion of “the new evangelization” was very much in vogue. But while we could all share the ambition to revive the faith throughout Western societies, it was not easy to devise a practical plan for that evangelical mission. The need is so great, the societies so diverse; where does one start?
The re-evangelization of New England is a more manageable task; one can at least begin to plot out the campaign. We can, for example, rally our forces by honoring our local champions: those who have served the faith vigorously and effectively, often as great personal cost. People like Mary Ann Glendon and Ray Flynn.
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