This is the second in a series of seven profiles of the men to be ordained new priests for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia on May 20.
It was at age 16 that Shane Flanagan says he first felt drawn to the priesthood, though he admits he “ran away from” this desire.
“I wanted a big family. My Dad had a big family, lots of kids. I didn’t know how I could be happy as a priest if I gave up the one thing I really wanted.”
Born and raised in Northeast Philadelphia, Flanagan is the seventh of eight children of parents Michael and Marie. His father was a Philadelphia firefighter, now retired after 39 years of service.
“I grew up in a house with a real, live superhero,” says Flanagan.
His mother is a retired Catholic school teacher. His oldest sibling is brother, Michael, in his 40s, and his youngest sibling is sister, Kaylyn, 22, who is graduating from Manor College in Jenkintown.
The Flanagan family are parishioners at St. Dominic Catholic Church in Northeast Philadelphia. As a boy, Flanagan says he played a lot of sports, “just trying to keep up with” his four older brothers, “playing basketball, baseball, whiffle ball, stuff you do in the city, just out in the streets.”
Jim Thome, former member of the Philadelphia Phillies, is a favorite athlete, and “pretty much anyone from the 2008 Phillies team.” Flanagan was in the seventh grade when they won the World Series that year.
Flanagan was also an altar server since the fifth grade, and he enjoyed spending time with his family. “When you’re one of eight, you have built in friends,” he says.
Often joining the family for special occasions was Flanagan’s great uncle, Msgr. Francis (Frank) Menna, a former pastor and regional vicar in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and rector of Villa St. Joseph, who died in 2014.
“Growing up, he would come over for holidays and hang out, watch football with us on Thanksgiving. He was a really big role model in my life,” says Flanagan. “He showed me that priests are just normal guys. He planted the seed early on.”
As a teenager, Flanagan attended Father Judge High School, playing on the school basketball team for four years. He spent summers working in his parish, caddying at the Torresdale-Frankford Country Club (now called The Union League Golf Club at Torresdale), and occasionally, he worked as a Phillies “Box Boy” on giveaway days at the ballpark.
After graduating high school in 2014, Flanagan attended Arcadia University in Glenside, Montgomery County, pursuing a career in physical therapy.
“It seemed to combine two things I really love to do, helping people and getting paid to be around sports,” he said. “I thought maybe [the desire to be a priest] would leave my head, and then I could live my life the way I wanted,” he said.
During his freshman year at Arcadia, Flanagan says, “I liked my classes, and I was having fun. On the surface, everything should have been perfect, but I felt like I didn’t belong.”
He soon realized that “if I didn’t at least attempt the seminary and give God’s plan for my life a shot, there would always be this unfulfilled feeling.”
Flanagan’s first visit to St. Charles Seminary was attending a 40 Hours devotion. He says he was “struck by a sense of peace and calm,” and that “the feeling of being unsettled” in his heart was gone.
“I knew in that moment that I wanted to capture this feeling of peace,” he said.
Flanagan entered St. Charles in the Fall of 2015, in time for the visit of Pope Francis and the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.
Reflecting on his experiences as a seminarian, Flanagan enjoyed “working with the youth groups at the different parishes.”
During his first year in the seminary, his Spiritual Year, he visited the Salesian community of priests in Port Chester, NY, whose charism is to work with the young and the poor.
“During the day, we’d help out in the soup kitchen and work in the after-school program. It really touched my heart. Through this work, God showed me that desire I had to be a father,” he said.
“God gave me such a good father,” says Flanagan. “[God] gave me the opportunity to give that to kids, who don’t otherwise have that opportunity.”
After his ordination, Flanagan says he hopes to “be a good and prayerful parish priest,” and “wherever the Lord takes me from there, just trust that He’s going to work good through me.”
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