Musings: My Big Brother Jim

By Dick Flavin

Boston Red Sox Poet Lauriate

and New York Times Best-Selling Author


My brother Jim and I were Irish twins, born less than a year apart. He arrived on

December 9, 1935 and I showed up the following December 7 th . We were the middle two

of four siblings, our sisters Marguerite and Marilyn were the bookends that kept us

propped up and in line.

As the older brother he was bigger, stronger, and – thankfully – more forgiving than I.

Being the little brother, I viewed it as my mission to taunt and pester him at every

opportunity, but he always treated me with patience and understanding - except on those

occasions when I overstepped the bounds of common decency, such as by stealing a

piece of candy that was rightfully his. When I did incite his rage I resorted to the one

physical attribute at which I excelled; I could run. I knew that if I could avoid his grasp

for just a few minutes he would cool down, his forgiving nature would come to the fore,

and I would live to pester him another day.

Back then we called him Jimmie, spelled with an “ie” at the end, like Jimmie Foxx, the

old ballplayer. I longed for the day when when we would both reach full growth and I

would be his equal in size and strength. But when that day finally came he remained, and

would be forever more, bigger, stronger, and more forgiving.

We both served as altar boys at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Quincy, Mass., but

he was never a goody-two-shoes kid, not a holier-than-thou type. In fact he was capable

of mischief, in one case at least, serious mischief. One Saturday morning he and another

kid from the neighborhood went behind Merrymount School, where we all attended

grammar school, gathered some stones together, and proceded to break almost every

window in the back of the school. They could not be seen from the street, so they thought

they were safe from detection. They failed to calculate, though, that there was a big hill

abutting the rear of the school property, and on that hill were several houses. When the

occupants of those houses heard glass shattering they looked out of their windows and

were able to make positive identifications of the guilty parties.

Jimmie paid a steep price for that trangression, and Jim, Sr. paid a steep price for the

replacement of all those shattered window panes.

As he progressed through his high school years, Jim heard the calling for a vocation in

the priesthood. He was interested in a missionary order; it was not something that he

talked about much, but the word got around and soon priests from various orders started

to show up at the house. They were like college football coaches on recruiting missions,

trying to sell their institutions to a talented quarterback. The Oblates of Mary Immaculate

had the inside track, though, and after spending a year at Providence College to be sure of

his decision he was off to the seminary in September of 1955. Just a so-so student in high

school, he got his act together and eventually earned a Doctor of Ministry degree from St.

Mary’s University in Baltimore. He was ordained a priest on May 31, 1963.

He spent 40 years of his priesthood serving in parish ministries in places as far-flung as

Ashville, North Carolina, Mullins, West Virgina, Grand Rapids, Michigan, and several

postings in and around the third world sections of Miami, Florida. We siblings were

always aware of where he was and of the work he was doing to spread he word of God

and the gift of faith but we never witnessed it first-hand because he was always hundreds

of miles away. Then, on the 40 th anniversary of his ordination, his parishoners at Christ

the King Church in Miami honored him and we all went there for the occasion. It was

eye-opening to see the ease with which he moved in the largely Haitian culture of the

parish – so different from the Irish Catholic ways of Boston which had spawned him –

and to see the genuine affection that his parishoners had for him, and he had for them.

Eventually his work took him back to Massachusetts, first as the Director of Saint Joseph

the Worker Shrine in Lowell, and then as Superior of the Immaculate Heart of Mary

Residence in Tewksbury, where he later became a satisfied customer in his retirement.

He used what spare time he had creatively and productively. As a young priest he became

interested in aviation, took flying lessons, and was for the rest of his days an active pilot.

He was an avid skier, an activity he pursued until into his eighties. A gifted writer, he

authored two books on his experiences as a priest and on his obervations of the people

and the world around him. He was an enthusiastic gardener, and in the spring he tapped

sugar maples on the Oblate property in Tewksbury, boiled down the sap, and made maple

syrup that he distributed as gifts to friends and relatives. He even, late in life, learned to

ride a unicycle.

That is not to say that his life was free from care and strife. He faced his share of it,

including seeing his own reputation and the reputation of every good priest sullied by the

sexual abuse scandals of the clergy. But when the storms came into his life, no matter

how high the winds, how torrential the rains, or how choppy and dangerous the seas, he

always kept his hand firmly on the tiller of the small boat he had chosen to take him on

mission in life. He stayed on course. He kept the faith.

This past Labor Day at lunch he seemed to be his usual good-natured self, but no one at

the Oblate residentce remembers seeing him later in the day. Perhaps, not feeling well, he

had gone to his room. Sometime after midnight he called the nurse in distress and was

rushed to the Lowell General Hospital, too late. In the predawn hours of September 3 rd he

was pronouced dead. He was 83.

He has sailed his small boat safely into port, disembarked, and stepped ashore on the

other side. He’s no longer with us in a physical sense, but all those of us who loved him

and whose lives he touched need do is close our eyes for moment, and there he is and will

always be – big, strong, forgiving, and faithful to his mission to the end.

We love you, Jimmie.