Give Me Five!
A monthly series in Vincentian Voices where we ask five random questions to an Eastern Province Priest or Brother.
This month, we talk with Fr. Patrick Flanagan, CM, who serves and teaches at St. John’s University in New York. We thought we’d ask Fr. Flanagan a few questions.
What was your favorite course or subject in school and why?
Not sure I had a particular course or subject in school. I loved being in the classroom as a student and now as a teacher, I believe I am still that student pursuing knowledge and asking critical questions. I did have favorite teachers though. I was blessed during all my years in school, including graduate level, to have outstanding dedicated women religious from various communities as my instructors (CSJs, OPs, RSMs, primarily). They were beacons of hope for me in their dedication to their craft and commitment to excellence in education. I also appreciated them immensely for the clarity of presentation and phenomenal organization they exercised each day in their ministry.
If I had to isolate two memorable teachers, they would be Dr. Robert Huebsch and Dr. Marilynn Fleckenstein. While I was a biochemistry major at Niagara University (www.niagara.edu) intending to be a medical doctor (God had other plans, although I probably make up for it now teaching biomedical ethics here at St. John’s [www.stjohns.edu]), I cultivated a real love for the humanities through these two professors of mine. While Niagara only required three courses in Religious Studies and Philosophy, I took at least five (5) courses from each of them in their respective fields.
What they taught did not matter to me. I just knew whatever course I took with Huebsch and Fleckenstein would be challenging and impactful. Each of these engaging professors set the bar high for their students. As college students, we read primary texts from theologians and philosophers which at first, I did not understand, but with their assistance, I eventually was asking them for more texts. They whetted my intellectual appetite and supported me in my curiosity. I believe that I am a good teacher today and hopefully motivate my students in a similar fashion because of teachers like the women religious, Huebsch, and Fleckenstein.
What secular musician or band do you enjoy the most? Please explain.
I love any remixes by the DJ Pitbull, aka Mr. 305, Mr. Worldwide. Generally, I listen to pop music. I probably cultivated this appetite for fast beat music and it has been sustained from being around young people all my priesthood. At the dawn of the millennium, Pitbull released “Give Me Everything” which energized me and made me now a long-term fan.
What I have enjoyed more recently about Pitbull’s music is the ease at which he combines Spanish and English lyrics. There is something very scintillating about that move he has made and also helps me pronounce Spanish words more precisely. For some reason or another, New York accent can be a challenge to some when I speak Español!
A second and perhaps more important reason why I continue to pay attention to this music artist is because of his philanthropy. In my business ethics course, I dedicate a class to a living wage, but then push my students to critique the salaries of professional athletes, actors, corporate leadership, and music artists. What is consistently remarkable is that students have little to no difficulty with individuals generating astronomical personal income. That is, as they tell me, if they share that wealth with their employees and are generous to others. Pitbull would get a pass from my students. His activism in the area of education is noteworthy giving back to his own hometown of Little Havana, Miami not far from the Cathedral parish where our confreres Jose Sanchez, Egbert Brown, and Terry Mooney ministered.
If you could ask Saint Vincent de Paul one question, what is the question and why?
“Do you recognize the Congregation you founded?” would be my question. Allow me to explain
This coming Spring semester I will finish my 18th year in the classroom here at St. John’s. I know that pales in comparison to my confrere Father Joe Hubbert who has been teaching Religious Studies at Niagara for much longer and, of course, Father John “Bud” Murray who taught students Psychology (and actually founded the department!) for over fifty (50) years here at St. Johns.
One of the processes on which I count each semester are the students’ evaluations of my teaching, content, presentation, and organization. I can tell you that in my almost two decades of teaching primarily the theological ethics courses in business and biomedicine, I have remade the courses about four or five times. This past summer I rewrote my biomedical ethics course and chose another set of texts in light of Covid-19 and St. John’s commitment to anti-racism. What primarily motivates me though to enhance my course, refurbish content, and refine my pedagogical style are those student evaluations.
As anyone can imagine, students are quite honest and direct. I welcome their feedback and encourage them to help me be a good teacher. Actually, for the past fifteen (15) years, I also ask my students for a midterm evaluation of which consists three simple questions: “what do you want the professor to STOP,” “what do you want the professor to START,” and “what do you want the professor to CONTINUE.” Students report that they are grateful for this opportunity midsemester because too often they do not see the bearing of their final evaluations.
This is probably too long of an answer to this question, but my response concerns evaluative feedback. Having studied extensively the life and works of St. Vincent de Paul throughout my life, particularly in formation at DePaul Novitiate (Philadelphia, PA) Mary Immaculate Seminary (Northampton, PA), and The Seminary of the Immaculate Conception (Huntington, NY), I believe we (sic) are being faithful to the primitive spirit of Holy Founder. Here is where feedback from confreres and scholars keener on Vincentian heritage would be of great service to us in offering us affirmations and areas of concern and for improvement. I would hate to think St. Vincent de Paul as with the gospel, we (sic), in our pride and arrogance remade the dreams of our foundational architects something that they would have never intended or approved.
Besides connecting with family and friends, what do you like to do in your free time?
There are three things I love to do of which only two I have been able to continue to do in light of Covid-19: read, write, travel.
I read a lot of updates from the world of the marketplace from the Wall Street Journal and the Economist. The National Catholic Bioethics Center has been an extraordinary resource for me in addressing the critical ethical concerns. They have regular, sometimes weekly, communications that I often share with colleagues and students for its accessibility.
I suspect like most confreres I am moving through three books right now, two non-fiction and one fiction. The first is the interesting “The Breakdown of Higher Education,” by John M. Ellis. Ellis analyzes from his conservative perspective “how it happened, the damage done, and what can be done.” Second, Michael J. Sandel’s “The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good?” is another on my desk. I picked up Sandel’s work primarily because I have used his popular previous work on justice previously for my classes. Having written my doctoral dissertation on “The Common Good and Information Technology,” Sandel’s insight into the common good help me to develop further my appreciation for the common good. Finally, I am a big fan of John Grisham. My family gifted me with his latest novel “A Time for Mercy.” In a present age where the morality of capital punishment is being called into question and the value of restorative justice is being activated, Grisham’s work on mercy is apropos.
I love to write. “Putting pen to paper,” organizes my thoughts and crystallizes my presentation. In the fall 2020 semester, I gave two (2) conference presentations. The first was on the import of religion in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Second, I gave a presentation on public juridic persons and the future of mission in Catholic higher education. This semester in addition to teaching I will put together manuscripts for publication incorporating some of the critical feedback from colleagues at the conference.
I also love writing homilies for the parishes in which I supply Sunday and sometimes weekday assistance (with the need for social distancing, some parishes have had to add more masses and getting celebrants can be challenging). Much like teaching I believe preachers not only have a responsibility to know the material, namely the scriptures the Church gives us for our reflection and moral response, but also find the most effective way to communicate the meaning and import of the texts to the congregation in front of us. So, I spend a bit of time, praying and reading the exegesis before crafting a homily. Generally, I get good feedback. Last Saturday night, I asked feedback from Jeff Byrnes who is known to many in the province for being the husband of the late Pam Shea Byrnes. What nice words he offered, “if this priesthood thing doesn’t work out, you’d make an outstanding teacher!” How grateful I was for his affirmation.
As for travel, I live in hope that our global village will be vaccinated by mid-summer and the opportunity to venture out past our comfort zones will be renewed. Spes non confundit!
If you could have dinner with one non-religious historical figure (dead or alive), who would it be and why? What might you ask them?
Jeff Bezos. Given my lively interest in information technology ethics, beyond his sheer unmatched wealth, Jeff Bezos remains a fascination to me. I already am aware of his intriguing public biographical information as many of us are. If I were to have an honest conversation with him, I would be curious to ask him about his vision for the future of technology. Cloud computing, wearable technology, and 5G speeds already are here. Where does he envision info tech in the near and far future? Additionally, I would push him to share what he would consider the casualties of a corporation like Amazon vis-à-vis the global capitalist system paying particular attention to entrepreneurs and small businesses. How much control over privacy will a corporation or an individual have over their information? Finally, I’d ask him, respectfully, of course, what he plans to do with all his money!
Fr. Patrick Flanagan, CM
Department of Theology & Religious Studies
St. John’s College of Liberal Arts & Sciences
St. John’s University
8000 Utopia Parkway
Jamaica, NY 11439