Reverend Edward H. Flannery

Inducted: 1968
Born: 1912
Died: 1998

Edward H. Flannery was born in Providence, Rhode Island, on August 20, 1912, to John Flannery, a police officer, and Elizabeth (Mulvey) Flannery. He attended Holy Name School and LaSalle Academy. In preparation for the priesthood, he studied at St. Charles College in Catonsville, Maryland, and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree at St. Sulpice Seminary near Paris. He then earned his master’s degree at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. In 1937, he was ordained and spent most of the next 30 years in the Diocese of Providence working as a pastor and chaplain, as well as writing for the diocesan newspaper.

In 1957, he became Managing editor of The Providence Visitor, and in 1965, he represented the newspaper at the Fourth Session of the Vatican II Council. In February 1967, he became a professor at Seton Hall University, Orange, NJ, teaching at the Institute of Judeo-Christian Studies. That same year, Fr. Flannery began nine years as the first director of Catholic-Jewish Relations at the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. In 1976, he returned to Providence as Director of the Continuing Education of the Clergy for the Diocese of Providence, Rhode Island.

Fr. Flannery devoted his life to the reconciliation of Christians and Jews and the study of antisemitism. In his book, The Anguish of the Jews: Twenty-Three Centuries of Antisemitism, he provided a thorough account of the history of the world’s persecution of the Jews. He covered Pagan antisemitism in the ancient world; the struggles between Judaism and the early Church; Christian antisemitism in the Middle Ages in the various countries of Europe; the age of the ghetto; the rise of scapegoat antisemitism in the modern, post-religious world (particularly in Russia) associated with Nazi paganism and the Holocaust; as well as antisemitism in America.

In relation to the Holocaust, Fr. Flannery illustrated the sympathies for the Nazi regime and Final Solution expressed by prominent Arab figures at the time, such as the close confidant of Adolf Hitler, Haj Amin al-Husseini. He traced antisemitism back to the 3rd century BC and identified the following strains: political and economic antisemitism, theological or religious antisemitism (also known as anti-Judaism), nationalistic antisemitism, and racial antisemitism (e.g., the foundations of Nazism).

In an interview in 1967, Fr. Flannery explained his reason for writing The Anguish of the Jews. “This book received its first impetus from a personal experience. One evening several years ago, I walked in New York City in the company of a young Jewish couple and within sight of the huge illuminated cross the Grand Central building displays at Christmas. The young lady declared: ‘That cross makes me shudder. It is like an evil presence.’ Her comment made him think, he recalled. “It soon became clear that her fearful reaction was the fruit of a knowledge which she, but not I, had — a knowledge of the immense suffering undergone by her people at the hands of Christians for many centuries.” So, he wrote the book, which Msgr. John M. Oesterreicher of the Institute of Judeo-Christian Studies at Seton Hall University called “to the best of my knowledge, the first history of antisemitism written by a priest.”

“The anti-Semite, not the Jew, is the real Christ-killer,” Fr. Flannery wrote. “He thinks he’s religious, but that’s a self-delusion. He finds religion so heavy a burden he develops ‘Christophobia.’ He’s hostile to the faith and has an unconscious hatred of Christ, who is, for him, Christ the Repressor. He uses antisemitism as a safety valve for this hostility and is really trying to strike out at Christ.”

Fr. Flannery was a member of many local, national, and international groups, often in leadership positions, including:

  • Vatican Secretariat for Catholic-Jewish Relations.
  • Chairman of the Israel Study Group in New York.
  • President of the National Christian Leadership Conference for Israel.
  • Member of the Board of American Friends at Oxford Center for Postgraduate Hebrew Studies at Oxford University in England.

Fr. Flannery’s numerous essays were published in Thought, America, Sign, Ave Maria, Journal of Ecumenical Studies, Judaism, U.S. Catholic, Continuum, Sidic, New York Times, and The Providence Visitor. He was a contributing columnist to the “Face of Religion” section of The Providence Journal. He translated Jacques Maritain’s De La Philosophic Chretienne, an essay on Christian Philosophy, and Francis Mauriac’s Paroles Catholiques (Words of Faith.)

Fr. Flannery was awarded honorary doctorates from several institutions, including Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Cincinnati, and Seton Hall University. He received the prestigious Nicholas and Hedy Munk International Brotherhood Award of the Canadian Council of Christians and Jews and many other signs of esteem from Christian and Jewish Organizations. Fr. Flannery believed most, even well-educated Christians, have been ignorant of what has happened to the Jews throughout history and the culpable involvement of the Church. Apart from a few recent publications, there is little about antisemitism in Christian history books or social studies.

Fr. Flannery received a Benemerenti Medal from Pope Paul VI in 1976 and honorary doctorates from Our Lady of Providence, Seton Hall University, and the Hebrew-Union College Jewish Institute of Religion. He received many awards and citations from Jewish and Christian-Jewish groups, including two Brotherhood Awards in 1960 and 1965 from the National Conference of Christians and Jews. In 1997, he received the Wallenberg Tribute Award from Muhlenberg College and the Sister Rose Thering Endowment for Jewish-Christian Studies Award from Seton Hall University.

Speaking at a 1987 Mass of Thanksgiving in honor of the 50th year of Flannery’s ordained ministry, Msgr. George G. Higgins of the Department of Theology of the Catholic University of America said “Flannery had been called by God to break new ground and address the anguish of the Jews and this, of course, long before the overwhelming majority of his fellow Christians had given so much as a second thought to the Holocaust.” At the 1997 celebration of Flannery’s 60th ordination anniversary, the National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, said: “His [Flannery’s] magnificent spirit, his emphatic heart, his great mind walk with prophets and kings and all those who ennoble the world with their courage and character.” ADL Director of Interfaith Affairs, Rabbi Leon Klenicki, said: “I know Edward’s limitless energy for dialogue and friendship. He is a person of God, sharing his spirituality with all of us. God bless him.” Cardinal William Henry Keeler said: “He was an early and effective pioneer in encouraging Catholics in the United States on how best to implement Nostra Aetate, the Second Vatican Council’s charter for fostering positive Catholic-Jewish relationships.”

After his death on October 19, 1998, Rabbi A. James Rudin, National Interreligious Affairs Director of the American Jewish Committee, released the following statement: “Fr. Flannery was one of this century’s spiritual giants. During his long and distinguished career, he helped build human bridges of mutual respect and understanding between Roman Catholics and Jews. His advice and guidance were always treasured, and his articulate voice and writings stirred Catholics and Jews. The AJC has lost a beloved colleague and friend. He shattered negative caricatures and stereotypes that had existed for centuries. Father Flannery was an unrelenting foe of all forms of antisemitism and was a strong supporter of the State of Israel.”

Fr. Flannery was inducted into The Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 2023.

For additional reading:

  1. “Leaders Mourn Passing of Father Edward Flannery, A Pioneer in Catholic-Jewish Relations,” United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, October 20, 1998.
  2. “Fr. Edward Flannery fought hatred against Jews until his death in 1998”. Fight Hatred – The Jabotinsky International Center. December 6, 2011.
  3. Pace, Edward (October 22, 1998). “The Rev. Edward Flannery, 86, Priest Who Fought Antisemitism”. New York Times.
  4. Meredith Ahlgren & Andrew H. Summey. “Father Edward H. Flannery papers”. Seton Hall University Libraries, January 11, 2014.
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