As the country celebrates Veterans Day this weekend, here are snapshots of two local Catholic veterans: one who died in February, and the other who is a deacon serving at a parish in Park Slope.
When Mary Brown walks into the New York Mets-themed veterans’ lounge at the V.A. hospital in St. Albans, memories of her husband, Edward Brown, who passed away from Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) on Feb. 7, come flooding back.
The two were married almost 62 years ago at St. Matthew’s, Crown Heights, and had six children.
“He really loved baseball, and was one of the biggest Mets fans,” Mary said.
She visited her husband regularly while he was in hospice at the V.A. St. Albans Community Living Center.
A corporal in the Army, Brown was stationed in Germany for two years after he enlisted in 1959.
“He was very dedicated to his country, and felt he had to serve,” Mary recalled. “It was hard when he was away. We were living on $100 a month with a child on the way.”
When Brown returned to Brooklyn in 1961, he worked multiple jobs, including as a salesman and as an MTA train conductor. He and Mary were active parishioners at St. Therese of Lisieux, East Flatbush.
Mary remembers her late husband’s devotion to St. Joseph and to the rosary.
“And no matter where he was, especially when he was working, he would always make the time to get to Mass. He went to church every day. Even on the last day of his life, [while in hospice] at St. Albans, he still went to Mass,” Mary said.
Father Edward Conway OFM Cap., a palliative care chaplain at St. Albans V.A. hospital, met and worked with Brown when the veteran moved into the V.A. one year ago. Father Conway recalls that Brown was “well-loved by the staff and nurses.”
“We still call his room downstairs Mr. Brown’s room,” Father Conway said. “He was a real fighter — never complained about his illness, never treated people rudely. He was just an overall very kind person. And it was very evident how much he and Mary were in love, after all these years.”
Deacon John Flannery
If you would have told a young John Flannery, a veteran and lifelong Brooklynite from Flatbush, who now serves as a deacon at Holy Family – St. Thomas Aquinas, Park Slope, that he would enter and leave the Benedictine monks, and later join the U.S. Air Force, by the time he turned 20, he would have laughed.
“This life has been quite a roller coaster,” said Deacon Flannery, 87.
“It meant so much more to me to serve as a Catholic. You meet all kinds of religions and people in the military, and living in non-Christian countries; it made me appreciate my faith,” he said.
Deacon Flannery enlisted in the Air Force in 1952, a few months after he left the Benedictines in high school. He served in North Korea during the Korean War, where he was a teletype communicator for the Air Force.
“It was the coldest place on God’s great earth,” he recalled, describing nights working in the mountains and living in a compound in “50 below freezing” winters.
“My guardian angel was sitting on my shoulder,” he said. “We would huddle around the one diesel stove to warm ourselves up … You had to do what you had to do.”
After he retired from military service in 1956, Deacon Flannery received medical help from the V.A., and turned his focus to his education and career. He worked for the Catholic Guild for the Blind under Catholic Charities. He realized his passion for social work and for serving the elderly and handicapped. He earned degrees from St. Joseph’s College, Clinton Hill, and Fordham University.
While he was working and studying, Deacon Flannery heard the call to become a deacon and was ordained in 1978. He has served at Holy Family – St. Thomas for 15 years, helping with Masses and sacraments, preaching and heading the RCIA.
Deacon Flannery credits his time in a monastery for helping him adjust to military life, and says his favorite saints, St. Martin de Porres and St. Catherine of Siena, as well as praying the Liturgy of the Hours daily, have helped him throughout life.
“Military discipline was nothing for me after living with the monks. It was quite a foundation, and it taught me that the most important part of life is our commitment to prayer,” he said.
“My faith has certainly grown since, and I have hopefully matured into a better person [since the Air Force]. Now I try and give back by serving the church.”