MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The longtime leader of the Twin Cities diocese, Archbishop Harry Joseph Flynn, has passed away.

In a quiet St. Paul neighborhood, the former Archbishop spent his final days, surrounded in the comfort of close friends at St. Vincent’s rectory where he resided.

“He was my boss but I could call him a friend too,” said Father John Malone, a retired priest who served during Flynn’s tenure.

Malone was among five clergy and friends who kept prayerful vigil at Flynn’s bedside, as age and cancer took his life.

(credit: Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis)

“Whenever people walked away from his service or an encounter they had with him, I think they thought they had a friend,” Malone said.

Between 1995 and 2008, Flynn steered some 650,000 Catholics in 218 parishes across the Twin Cities. He was largely known for promoting social-justice issues, fighting racism and standing up for immigrants.

As local parishioners learned of Flynn’s passing many kept his life in proper Catholic perspective.

“For the Archbishop, I’m certain he’s in a better place now. God put us on this earth for a period of time and then it’s time to go home,” Joe Fleury said.

But Flynn’s years were also marked by controversy within the Catholic church. As the leader of the state’s largest diocese Flynn was forced to balance the needs of the church with the many victims of clergy sex abuse.

Malone believes his compassion for victims was forged at a young age, after Flynn suffered the loss of both parents.

“He knew the pain of difficult things in life and he grew to understand other people’s pain I think,” Malone said.

In 2002 Flynn chaired a panel of U.S. Bishops in addressing the church scandal, and later helped write new policies for how best is should be handled.

Flynn will be laid to rest on Monday, September 30 at Resurrection Cemetery in Mendota Heights. Earlier in the day, his funeral mass will held at the Cathedral of Saint Paul at 11 a.m., with a public visitation beforehand from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m.

Bill Hudson