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Essays and Such

Irish Cultural Society

of San Antonio Texas

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Promoting Awareness of Irish Culture

Bishop Flanagan
2009
by Kelly Niemiec
Its a Long Way From Kildare

2009

Bishop Flanagan

by Kelly Niemiec

Irish Faith in the Middle of Texas

When asked to identify a person
Bishop Tom
who has made a significant 
contribution to humanity most 
people first think of a famous
politician, inventor, or 
celebrity, most of whom are 
deceased. I know I did. But 
what about someone alive and 
actively working within our 
communities right now? This 
thought led me to Bishop 
Thomas Flanagan, a man who 
came to San Antonio, Texas 
fifty-three years ago from 
Ireland. Since his ordination
as a priest, Bishop Tom has 
influenced those at the 
parishes where he worked, people of all faiths, not just 
Catholicism, and people from around the world, from San 
Antonio all the way back to Ireland.

	Thomas Flanagan was born in Rathmore, County Kildare, 
Ireland on October 23, 1930. The oldest of eight children, Flanagan 
was able to maintain a very close relationship to his parents, 
Patrick and Mary McNamara Flanagan. His mother was so close to him 
that, while he was growing up, she knew the path he was going to 
take in life. On June 10, 1956, at the age of twenty-six, Flanagan 
was ordained as a priest. The first thing he did at this spiritual 
and life changing moment was to turn around and bless his parents 
over the railing that separated them. This action shows how much 
he cared for his parents. In his own way, he acknowledged how much 
they had given to him during his life and, at that moment, he gave 
a little bit back. Later that year, in September, Father Flanagan 
left his family and country to follow his call to serve the Lord.

	Before being appointed as administrator of St. Agnes Church
in Edna, Father Flanagan served in several parishes as an associate
pastor. 
In 1972, Father Flanagan became pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Parish 
where he served for thirteen years before becoming pastor at St. 
Brigid. While working at these various churches, Father Flanagan had
a profound impact on those who heard his homilies. According to Joe 
Escamilla, a parishioner of St. Brigid Church, Flanagan “has a way 
of being able, [with] his words of kindness and love, to pat 
somebody on the back and say that everything will be fine. More 
importantly he reaches out and touches their heart [so that a person
for whom you wonder if the words are penetrating] breaks down.”  
Through his homilies, Father Flanagan helps others grow in their 
faith and relationship with God. He teaches people to listen, not 
just with their ears but also with their heart. Bishop Flanagan 
is able to make such a big impact because of his own faith, love 
and compassion. The spirit of the Lord moves through him, and, by 
his words and actions he reaches out to others. Bishop Flanagan 
understands that we don’t need great, long speeches; sometimes 
all we really need is a “thank you” or a comforting presence, and 
he teaches this to others.
 
	After serving at St. Brigid Parish, Father Flanagan was 
ordained as an auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese by Archbishop 
Patrick F. Flores. The ordination occurred on February 16, 1998 
at the San Antonio Municipal Auditorium. Over the years, Bishop 
Flanagan has served the community through various leadership 
positions with organizations such as the Catholic Center for 
Charismatic Renewal, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and the 
Knights of Columbus.

	While Bishop Flanagan has a huge impact on many “ordinary, 
everyday […] struggling Catholics”, he also “does everything 
within his power […] to open doors for all peoples, whether 
they’re Protestant or Muslim.” He doesn’t view people based on 
their ethnicity and religion. 
Bishop Flanagan has reached out to the less fortunate of the San 
Antonio community by combining a favorite pastime with service 
work. The result is a golf tournament and auction called the 
Bishop Tom Flanagan Classic. For the past nine years, this event
has risen over $500,000 for Habitat for Humanity. 

	Despite his distance from home,  Bishop Flanagan has 
never forgotten his roots. In 1999, he was able to participate 
in the Ulster Project, a program that brings Protestant and 
Catholic teens from Northern Ireland to the United States. The 
program works to amend the differences between the two religious 
groups and to dispel religious intolerance. Bishop said that 
“for so long [he had] wanted to become involved in the Ulster 
Project because of its purpose in helping both Catholic and 
Protestant people to live peacefully and happily together 
in North Ireland.”

	On December 15, 2005, Bishop Flanagan retired from 
his position at the age of seventy-five as required by the 
canon law.  However, his retirement did not bring an easy, 
carefree schedule, and he is more involved and busy now than 
he was before. According to Deacon Juan Espinosa, “his 
compassion and love for people, even now that he finds it 
hard to get around, is so deep and intense that he will 
never turn down anybody who asks him to do their rosary, 
quinceanera or wedding. If they ask him to do it, he will do
it even though he is in [high] demand.” 

	Bishop Thomas Flanagan has a never ending hope for 
humanity. He believes that regardless of the challenges and 
the evil in the world today, there is “not just a glimpse 
in his eyes but a shinning hope in humanity” to overcome 
those obstacles and become a more loving and compassionate 
world. For him, the hardest thing to do is “to place a door 
or obstacle in front of anybody as they go through the 
journey of life.” Bishop Thomas Flanagan has followed his 
call to become a leader in the world, to create a more 
connected humanity and to help other people grow in their 
faith.

Works Cited:
Bishop Tom Flanagan Classic. 2006 13 Mar. 2009. 
< http://golf.silvermailbox.com/index.html>.

Escamilla, Joe. Personal Interview. 25 Mar. 2009.

Espinosa, Deacon Juan. Personal Interview. 26 Mar. 2009.

McMorrough, Jordan. “Bishop Thomas J. Flanagan Marks 
50 Years of Service. ” Today’s Catholic. 23 June 2006. 
13 Mar. 2009. 
.

McMorrough, Jordan. “Vatican Accepts Retirement of Bishop 
Flanagan.” Today’s Catholic. 23 Dec. 2005. 13 Mar. 2009. 
< http://www.satodayscatholic.com/flanagan_retirement.aspx>.


About the author: Kelly Niemiec is not Irish.
Her essay on "A person of Irish heritage and their Contribution"
won the Irish Cultural Society's  Annual Scholarship Competition
for the year 2008 to 2009.