Local couple shares faith by doing ‘Lourdes’ work
By Walt Schaefer
For The Catholic Telegraph
Jim and Mary Lu Flynn have been doing their Lourdes’ work.
For past ten years the Flynns — now residents of the St. Leonard Community retirement center in Centerville — have spent a week a year as volunteers at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes in Lourdes, France, where more than 200 million pilgrims have visited since 1860.
They volunteer through North American Lourdes Volunteers, (www.LourdesVolunteers.org) a Syracuse, N. Y. based organization dedicated to providing volunteers at Lourdes, site of the Marian apparitions of Our Lady of Lourdes in 1858 to Saint Bernadette Soubirous.
“Back then, a very small ad in The Catholic Telegraph appeared about the North American Lourdes volunteers program,” Jim Flynn said. “I asked what volunteers did…and we have been going for 10 years now. We just recently notified them that we will not be going this year because it’s really a young person’s job. It’s very taxing. There’s a lot of walking up and down steps just to get from one place to another.”
Because of their years of experience, in recent years the Flynns trained and led tours for English speaking volunteers. “We went through training with an English speaking counselor who trained us for working with English-speaking pilgrims,” Mary Lu Flynn said. “Then it was a matter of helping our volunteers to understand the message of Lourdes and what it means to be part of the volunteer program — carrying the message of Lourdes wherever you are.”
In earlier visits, Mary Lu Flynn worked as a dishwasher in a 300-bed assisted care facility and also spent a year in the “Petitions Office” where “all of the thousands and thousands of prayer requests come in — in every single language you can imagine.
“It was a very moving experience because you knew when the writer of the petition would address Mary,” Mary Lu Flynn said. “Many of the requests were for thanksgiving; how to mediate grief, all of that. Sometimes the envelopes had rose petals in them and pictures of babies and weddings; gravesites or memorials. This was done in reverence. Everything was confidential. The notes were written on scraps of paper, on receipts, on nice stationary — all kinds of ways they came in. I’d have a mailbag to open. Many of them had donations in them and we would go through every single envelope.”
During the years Mary Lu was opening mail and washing dishes, Jim was busy welcoming and helping disabled pilgrims arriving at the airport or train station and assisted in the baths — a moving experience as pilgrims are gently lowered into the water which originates at the spring in the grotto where Mary appeared to St. Bernadette.
“We came together to work the orientation and the tours about six years ago,” Mary Lu Flynn said. Last year, the Flynns’ three children and seven grandchildren worked as Lourdes volunteers.
“In addition to the spiritual side, there are about six million people who come to Lourdes and the grotto every season from April 1 through Oct. 31. It’s open the rest of the year but there are no formal organized activities. When open, there is a daily Eucharistic Procession and Rosary Procession for example. There’s Mass going on all the time, all day long,” Jim Flynn said.
Mary Lu Flynn added: “There is a Reconciliation Chapel. You can go to confession in any one of six languages. It’s open all day with priests who speak those languages.”
Since 1858, there have been 7,000 occurrences at Lourdes with 69 called “inexplicable”. Many of the 7,000 are in the queue for confirmation, Jim Flynn said.
The Flynns, formerly of Middletown, have been active in the church for decades. Mary Lu, former director of student services at Miami University, Middletown, served as a volunteer advocate in Middletown Municipal Court for victims of domestic violence. As part of her degree program at The Athenaeum of Ohio, she developed a workshop to familiarize clergy, priests, deacons and religious sisters about domestic violence. She started a coalition on domestic violence at the archdiocese’s Family Life Office. Jim Flynn is involved in prison ministry at the Lebanon Correctional Institution.
The Flynns are active in the St. Leonard Community. Jim does Communion services. Mary Lou works in the spiritual care office and distributes Communion to about 40 residents who are unable to get to the chapel.
This Everyday Evangelist feature originally appeared in the March 2015 print edition of The Catholic Telegraph.