Photo: Felix Carroll
The 'Face of the Shrine' Says Goodbye
Wendy says farewell to longtime colleague Donna Morawiec.
By Felix Carroll (May 2, 2013)
The tools of her trade have been these: a phone of course, a Rolodex, walkie-talkie, fax machine, copier, stapler, pens, and all manner of door keys.
But since the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass., has been like a second home for Wendy Flynn, she surrounds herself with personal artifacts as well. Namely, images of some of the most important figures in her life.
The image of Jesus, the Merciful Savior, and St. Faustina.
Photos of her family, including her grandchildren.
And a funeral card of a priest killed in the terrorist attacks Sept. 11, 2001.
Wendy, the Shrine's receptionist for the past 13 years, retired this week.
"We've been blessed not only to have Wendy here as an employee, but also to know her as a person," says Fr. Robert Vennetti, MIC, the Shrine's assistant rector. "She's a part of our family here. She will always be a part of our family."
For visitors to Eden Hill, Wendy has been the "face of the Shrine." For Marian priests, brothers, and staff, she has been the embodiment of dependability, able to multitask in an often-hectic environment with the grace of a beloved matriarch and the attentiveness and poise of an air traffic controller.
To all who know her, she is simply one classy lady.
A Bittersweet Send-Off
Marians and staff gathered on Monday to honor Wendy at the Marian Helpers Center, where she worked for 10 years prior to her 13-year stint as Shrine receptionist.
Greeted with a round of applause, Wendy proceeded to blow out the candles of a cake the size of a home-sweet-home doormat. (Indeed, embedded in the icing, was an image of her "second home," the National Shrine.) The Shrine staff doubled up on the goodbyes with a similar ceremony on Tuesday at the Shrine residence.
"This is just so, so wonderful," she said as she exchanged hugs and memories with employees.
"We don't want Wendy to leave. We want her to stay forever," Shrine Rector Fr. Ken Dos Santos, MIC, said. He was kidding, but not really.
A 'Home' on High
Wendy's career on Eden Hill began after her husband, Art, died suddenly in 1988. His death left a void that was impossible to fill. But his death also led to a lot of introspection on Wendy's part.
For one, Wendy — her two children grown up and out of the house by then — decided she needed to do something with more meaning in her life. The job she had at the time, at a downtown Stockbridge business, was proving unfulfilling. She was soon offered a higher calling, literally — high on Eden Hill, home of the Shrine, which overlooks downtown Stockbridge.
During her 10 years at the Marian Helpers Center, she worked in the Members Service Department taking phone calls from around the world. Some calls came from customers ordering products such as books and prayercards. Some came from people asking for prayers.
That's pretty much how things operate on Eden Hill: Employees, clergy, and volunteers keep one foot planted in this world, ministering to the needs of neighbors, and the other foot serving as a beachhead to heaven.
Yes, for Wendy, this was a higher calling.
Then, in May 2000, when she was offered the receptionist position at the Shrine, she jumped on it. Why? Because she was drawn to a position that would allow her to interact face to face with Shrine pilgrims, many of whom come to the Shrine motivated by rather momentous events: typically, to give thanks to God for a special grace or to beg Him for His mercy. Or both.
"I was offered the job on the year St. Faustina was canonized," says Wendy. "In fact, she was canonized on my birthday, on April 30. I knew that coming to work here at the Shrine was a real gift from Our Lady and St. Faustina."
The gift was reciprocal. She's been a gift for the Shrine and for the Kingdom of God. (She really hates this sort of attention, by the way. But — oh, well — it's true.)
Too Many Memories to Name
Hello, the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy. This is Wendy speaking..."
It's the Friday before her retirement, and Wendy is doing what she has done day in and day out — fielding phone calls, greeting and guiding visitors, including members of the many bus tours, relaying messages via walkie-talkie to members of the maintenance crew, and (a favorite task of hers) distributing holy oil blessed in honor of St. Faustina.
In a break in the action, she says, "I have had a lot of special, special times here."
It would take her days to recount each and every special occasion. But one she feels compelled to share occurred in August 2001. A visiting priest came to the receptionist counter. The priest, Fr. Francis Grogan, was a close friend of Wendy's mother. He was beloved by all who knew him, a man who lived by the motto, "Don't sweat the small stuff."
"He asked to see a priest," says Wendy. "He wanted to go to confession. We always take it very seriously when people request a priest for confession, because you never know if it's going to be their last confession."
Likely, it was Fr. Grogan's last confession.
Two weeks later, on Sept. 11, Fr. Grogan, 76, would board a Boeing 767 at Boston's Logan Airport on his way to California to visit his sister, Anne Brown. Just days earlier, he had eagerly video taped greetings from his relatives in eastern Massachusetts to bring to his sister. He was so excited to share the greetings with her.
Also on board his flight were five men from the Middle East who, once the plane was airborne, broke into the cockpit, took over the plane, redirected it, and crashed it into the South Tower of the World Trade Center.
Father Grogan "loved life and all of its little joys," said his friend, Holy Cross Deacon George Zarella. "He always said the reason we call it the 'present' is that every moment is a gift."
Wendy, showing Fr. Grogan's funeral card to me, said, "He was just a wonderful man, a wonderful, wonderful man. You just don't know who is going to come to this counter on any given day."
She adds, "We're in the business here of helping God to save souls. Seven days a week. I've sat here and seen grown men cry. Amazing stories."
All in the Family
A native of nearby Pittsfield, Wendy first became acquainted with the Shrine when she was a student in St. Joseph High School's Class of 1960. She used to come to the candlelight processions during the annual Marian Week celebrations in August.
"The processions were beautiful," she recalls, "and they'll be etched in my memory forever."
When she married, she and Art eventually moved to Stockbridge where they raised their children and sung in the Shrine choir.
The Shrine will continue to be a part of her life, as a congregant and a fill-in receptionist if ever needed. But mostly she plans on spending more time with her family — her son, Shawn, his wife, Kristin, and their four children, who live a few miles away, and her daughter, Katie, and her husband, Ned, and their four children, who live in Kentucky.
She points to one photo on her desk that she particularly prizes. It's of her 23-month-old granddaughter, Claire, who was born with special needs.
"She's like an angel," says Wendy. "So joyful. She can't crawl, can't walk. Hopefully she will someday. We've had so many people praying for her. I can see the progress being made. You see little moments, her happy sounds. I call them 'Claire's happy sounds.' Her feet get moving when she sees you. The love that comes from Claire's parents and siblings is incredible to witness. They feel such love, and they give such love.
"Claire Rebecca Flynn," says Wendy, "blond and precious and getting stronger."
The phone is ringing. Someone is trying to get ahold of Fr. Richard. Then, someone needs help getting a garage door open. Then, a pilgrim comes in asking directions to the bathroom. Then, Fr. Robert enters the office and tells her of a Marian priest who has fallen ill, which means there is now a priest shortage on a busy weekend.
"God will provide," Fr. Robert says. "That's one thing Wendy can tell you. The Lord provides."
Wendy, we love you. God bless you.
And God bless baby Claire.