Feast of Hugh O’Flaherty (October 30)   2 comments

Vatican Flag

Above:  The Flag of Vatican City

Image in the Public Domain

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HUGH O’FLAHERTY (FEBRUARY 28, 1898-OCTOBER 30, 1963)

The “Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican”

Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed  an entire world.  And whoever saves one life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.

–Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:9

Sometimes acting in a merely decent manner proves to be dangerous, even potentially deadly for one.  Doing the right thing remains important and becomes courageous in such circumstances.  From the lives of heroes who acted merely decently we who look back upon their times can derive invaluable lessons about loving our neighbors as ourselves.

The saint and hero du jour is Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty.  He, born at Cahersiveen, Ireland, on February 28, 1898, grew up toward the end of the struggle to establish the Republic of Ireland (founded in 1922).  Political realities, including the killing of friends by pro-British partisans, caused our saint to have a negative opinion of the British for a long time.  His mother was Margaret O’Flaherty, a homemaker.  Our saint’s father was James O’Flaherty, steward at a golf club.  Young Hugh, who grew up at Killarney, became a skilled golfer, but his vocation was with the Church.  Thus he entered Mungret College, a Jesuit school, in 1918, to train and study to become a missionary priest.

O’Flaherty became a priest in 1925 and a monsignor nine years later, but never a missionary.  No, diplomacy beckoned, given his doctorates and his fluency in languages.  This change of direction proved vital to the great work he performed in the 1940s.  Our saint served in diplomatic roles for the Roman Catholic Church in Egypt, Haiti, Santo Domingo, and Czechoslovakia before transferring to the Vatican in 1938.  Thus it came to pass that, with the start of the European Theater of World War II in 1939 (the Second Sino-Japanese War, which became the Pacific Theater of World War II, had been in progress for years), the Vatican assigned him to serve as the translator for the Papal Nuncio to Italy.  This work brought O’Flaherty into contact with Allied prisoners of war, including British ones.  He had no difficulty siding with the Allies (even the British) against the Axis Powers, for, as he liked to say,

God has no country.

Our saint ensured that Allied prisoners of war received blankets, Red Cross packages, and proper clothing.  He used Vatican Radio to send messages from these prisoners to their families back home.  And O’Flaherty protested conditions in some POW facilities, prompting the Italian government to ask the Church to reassign him.

Thus O’Flaherty found himself in a position to lead a network of volunteers, safe houses, and church buildings for the purpose of saving thousands of lives.  He was responsible for saving the lives of an estimated 6,500 people–prisoners of war, anti-Fascist and anti-Nazi dissidents, and Jews (about 1,700 of them), of course.  Our saint risked his life to conduct this work.  He had to travel in disguise, for Pietro Koch, the leader of the Italian Fascist police, and Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Kappler, the head of the Gestapo in Nazi-occupied Rome (September 1943-June 1944), sought to kill him or to have him killed on sight outside the safety of Vatican City, a sovereign state.

O’Flaherty, a humble man who disliked attention showered upon him, received postwar honors from foreign governments.  The Italian government gave him a pension, which he declined.  Canada and France honored him.  O’Flaherty became a Commander of the British Empire and received the United States Medal of Freedom.

Kappler’s fate and the postwar relationship he and O’Flaherty spoke of the possibility of repentance and redemption.  Allied forces arrested the former Gestapo leader in 1945.  In 1947 a court sentenced him to life imprisonment.  O’Flaherty visited him in prison and befriended him.  The two men discussed topics such as literature and religion.  And, in 1959, our saint converted Kappler to Roman Catholicism.

O’Flaherty, about to become the Papal Nuncio to Tanzania, suffered a stroke in 1960.  Thus he left the Vatican for his native Ireland, moving into the home of one of his sisters at Cahersiveen.  There our saint died on October 30, 1963.  Fifty years later, at Killarney, the Hugh O’Flaherty Memorial opened, complete with one of his quotes,

God has no country.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 24, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF PENTECOST

THE FEAST OF IDA SCUDDER, REFORMED CHURCH IN AMERICA MEDICAL MISSIONARY IN INDIA

THE FEAST OF JACKSON KEMPER, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF WISCONSIN

THE FEAST OF MOTHER EDITH, FOUNDER OF THE COMMUNITY OF THE SACRED NAME

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Almighty God, whose prophets taught us righteousness in the care of your poor:

By the guidance of your Holy Spirit, grant that we may

do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly in your sight,

through Jesus Christ, our Judge and Redeemer,

who lives and reigns with you and the same Spirit,

one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Isaiah 55:11-56:1

Psalm 2:1-2, 10-12

Acts 14:14-17, 21-23

Mark 4:21-29

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 736

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2 responses to “Feast of Hugh O’Flaherty (October 30)

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  1. Pingback: Devotion for Wednesday After Proper 16, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary) | ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS

  2. Pingback: Enemies, Divine Judgment, and Divine Mercy | BLOGA THEOLOGICA

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