After nearly five decades as a priest, Msgr. Sean P. Flynn retired from a vocation he has loved, among people whose “faith, dedication and commitment to Jesus and to his Church has often put my own faith to shame.”
PHOTO GALLERY: Retirement -- Msgr. Sean P. Flynn
“While my 48 years as a priest may not have always been easy, I have experienced great satisfaction and fulfillment. I have absolutely no regrets about my decision to become a priest,” he said before his July 1 retirement. He has served in the Diocese of Trenton since 1976, most recently as pastor of St. Mark Parish, Sea Girt.
From Ireland to America
Born on a small farm in Monaghan, Ireland, as the oldest of six children, he was inspired to the priesthood by the example of his parents and nearby clergy.
“My parents were devout Catholics. We said the Rosary every night and attended Mass regularly,” he noted. “I was very impressed by a young priest in the parish who frequently visited our grade school, as well as our home. I thought that I would like to be a priest just like him.”
At the time Ireland had an abundance of priests, he recalled, one of whom had joined the Trenton Diocese and became Msgr. Flynn’s connection to New Jersey.
Msgr. Flynn prepared for the priesthood in St. Patrick College, County Caslow, and was ordained on June 8, 1975, in Ireland by Bishop Patrick Mulligan.
In 1976, he was first assigned as parochial vicar in Sacred Heart Parish, Mount Holly, and then as associate pastor in Blessed Sacrament Parish, Trenton, followed by the same role in St. Denis Parish, Manasquan. In 1984, Msgr. Flynn was appointed as the bishop’s representative for Catholic hospitals. He also served as an Engaged Encounter Team priest, and diocesan coordinator for AIDS programs. In 1989, he was appointed parochial vicar of St. Dorothea Parish, Eatontown, before being named pastor there in 1990.
In 1993, Msgr. Flynn was appointed dean of the Central Monmouth Deanery and, several months later, was invested as a Chaplain to His Holiness with the title of monsignor.
He was named as pastor of St. Joseph Parish, Toms River, in 1996, and served on the Committee on Ministry in Non-Correctional and Health Care Institutions in the Diocese of Trenton. In 2008, Msgr. Flynn was named pastor of St. Mark Parish.
To Be an Instrument
“With the help of God’s grace, I wanted to be the best priest that I could be,” Msgr. Flynn said. “I wished to be as effective an instrument of God’s love and mercy as possible to those whom I was privileged to serve. I wanted to always be there for them in their times of joy and sorrow, to be a sign of God’s presence and love. With the constant help of God’s guidance and grace, I feel that I have been reasonably successful.”
Rewarding aspects of Msgr. Flynn’s priestly ministry have included working with youth, particularly in St. Joseph School and Donovan Catholic High School.
“I went on over 20 ‘Kairos’ retreats with the senior high school students,” he recalled. “This was a wonderful, spiritually uplifting experience. Their openness and honesty in their sharing during the retreat helped me to be a more open priest. I still have some of them call me to perform their weddings or to baptize their babies.”
He also considered it important to work with Project Rachel, an outreach program for women who have procured an abortion. “To be able to bring Jesus’ mercy, compassion and healing to them, especially in the Sacrament of Penance, I found very rewarding.”
Hospital visitation, too, was a beautiful experience for Msgr. Flynn. “There you meet people who were alienated from God or no longer practicing their religion,” he said. “Facing their immortality, I often found them to be very open to God’s mercy and love.”
His said his greatest challenge was “being the pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Toms River … [it was] the largest parish in the Diocese with over 7,500 families and two large schools.”
Msgr. Flynn served there from 1996 to 2008 and said he was faced with frequent mediation among parents, teachers and students – but he credits the nearly 180 employees with being his constant support.
“I could not have succeeded … without the great assistance of my pastoral associates and of a very dedicated staff,” he affirmed. “All this experience helped me to grow as a person and as a priest, especially my interaction with the youth.”
St. Mark Parish hosted a celebration for Msgr. Flynn who retired as pastor on July 1. Mike Ehrmann photo