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They inspired the world

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Families divided and children without basic educational skills and no leader can inspire them. Where's the leadership? But it all begins with communication.

Raymond L.

How many times have you heard a homily or sermon in a church, synagogue or temple and say later, "That was very insightful and meaningful. The priest must have done a lot of preparation before delivering his comments." When I was a young boy and my father would take us to church he would say to me, "Ray, listen closely to what the priest has to say and tell me after Mass." My father had difficulty hearing, but was deeply faithful and wanted to know everything that had been said by the priest. Naturally, walking home, he would ask me many questions. So I learned at a very young age to pay close attention to what the priest had to say. Even when I was in politics, I always listened carefully to all the speeches at the State House or in meetings with people in the neighborhood.

My wife Kathy's mother, Mrs. Winifred McDonough Coyne from Co. Galway, Ireland, had a wonderful way of describing a great speaker. She was a domestic for the rich people on Beacon Hill when she came to America and while I was dating Kathy and attending Providence College, I loved listening to Mrs. Coyne describe an event or a particular speaker she heard. Despite not having any formal education, she could spin a phrase as well as anybody.

One example of this came one night while Kathy and I were still dating. We were sitting at her kitchen table on Old Harbor Street after listening to the rosary on radio, and we started talking about politics. She told us a story about coming home from work one night, when she saw that there was a big street corner political rally at Perkins Square. When she saw that Boston Mayor James Michael Curley was about to speak, she stopped to listen. In describing the speaking skills of "The Mayor of the Poor" to us, she herself eloquently said, "You could stand in the snow for hours with your shoes off listening to Mayor Curley speak."

Wow! What a magnificent phrase to describe a public speaker. I have borrowed her phrase over the years, which has always been well received by the audience.

Believe me, I heard some great speeches over the years coming from average people. I always looked for sincerity over eloquence. A couple of personal stories of people who proved their skill to effectively communicate that I knew were Karol Wojtyla of Poland (the future Pope St. John Paul II) and Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen of New York.

It was 1963, I was in the Army and stationed outside of Washington, D.C., and President John F. Kennedy had just been assassinated. Several of us took a bus to Washington to attend the funeral. I was able to stay with a friend from college who was attending Catholic University of America Law School at the time.

The city was packed with famous people from all over the world there to attend the president's funeral. Television celebrity Jackie Gleason was on the campus to visit a relative, I think his daughter. In the college cafeteria, Jackie told us a story about Archbishop Sheen, who had a weekly TV show, "Life is Worth Living." Jackie told a group of students that in Hollywood or in New York City, all the television crew and staff would stop production to watch Archbishop Sheen on TV. That would include many of the Jewish directors and producers. "He would motivate us like nobody else," Gleason said.

Another inspiring speaker that I knew well was Pope John Paul II. He once told me that, as a young boy, he would often practice speaking in front of a mirror in his bedroom in Wadowice for hours. He was studying to be an actor, but he helped change the world.

The world could surely use two inspirational leaders like that to lead the world in a better direction today. We haven't we seen that in politics since FDR and perhaps that's the main reason why people aren't inclined to follow political advice. Beheadings of Christians by brutal terrorists in the Middle East and nothing is done about it. Deadly drug addiction and teenagers committing murder in our cities and society is stone deaf to it. Families divided and children without basic educational skills and no leader can inspire them. Where's the leadership? But it all begins with communication.

I only hear it in places of worship, not on TV, or in government today.


Raymond L. Flynn is the former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See and Mayor of Boston.

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