By Cathy Harasta
The Texas Catholic
PLANO — Joy and Gene Flynn built a solid, lasting marriage in much the same way that they helped to shape and strengthen St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Plano as founding parishioners.
The altar, rectory, candle stands and much more reflect Gene’s handiwork, faith and love of carpentry and construction projects.
Joy kept the foundation of their family life sturdy despite frequent moves for Gene’s career with the U.S. Census Bureau.
They said that their wedding day 64 years ago often seems so fresh and vibrant that it could have occurred yesterday.
“Love lasts forever when kindness is thrown in,” said Joy who, with Gene on Sept. 6, will attend the inaugural Diocesan Silver and Gold Anniversary Mass at the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe for couples married for 25 years, 50 years and 50-plus years. “It’s been a long time, but sometimes it doesn’t seem like it.”
Their wedding on June 16, 1950, always reminds them of their joy that day in the Cathedral of St. Joseph in St. Joseph, Mo., they said.
Gene had been a choir member at the cathedral. Joy recalled how long the aisle seemed as she made that once-in-a-lifetime trip toward the altar.
Gene’s job brought him to North Texas in 1970. He and Joy later retired to a home on Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri, but the couple returned to live in Plano in 1998 to be near their children who settled in the Dallas area.
Of their five children, two live in North Texas and one each lives in Georgia, Illinois and Wisconsin.
Joy said they make a point to gather as a family, as they did recently in San Francisco for the wedding of one of their 12 grandchildren.
Msgr. Leon Duesman, the founding pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church, said that Joy and Gene contributed in many ways to the parish, which was established in 1976.
“Gene was very handy and very involved with the Men’s Club,” said Msgr. Duesman, who is retired. “When it came time to build the rectory, he kind of took care of that. He built a number of classrooms and served as contractor. Joy was just a joy to be around. They’re just a super couple.”
Joy and Gene’s son Scott said that his parents provided a great example of what it means to honor responsibilities.
“My mom was dedicated to raising the children,” he said. “My dad was always a hard worker whose job didn’t end when he came home from work. He was a talented carpenter, electrician and mechanic. He has an ability to just look at something and know how it should be done right.”
Scott, who is a lawyer, said that all of his parents’ grandchildren at various times have used a cradle that Gene built.
“I messed with carpentry all my life,” Gene said. “When I was growing up, we didn’t have anything. If you wanted something, you had to do it yourself.”
But eating dinner never was a do-it-by-yourself event in the Flynn home, Joy said.
“When the children were young, no matter how busy everyone was, we made a point of sitting down and having dinner in the evening together,” said Joy, who met Gene at a dance that featured Big Band music at a Missouri amusement park. “When we moved, it wasn’t always easy. It meant starting the kids in new schools. But it all worked out. We tried to maintain our family life. That’s very important.”
Maybe nothing about their life together made a greater impression on their daughter, Susan Coley, than a discovery that she made as a teenager.
Coley, a neo-natal nurse who lives in Plano, said that she recalled returning from a high school function one evening and knocking on her parents’ bedroom door to tell them good-night.
“That was when I discovered that they prayed together every night,” she said. “They hold hands and pray. We always went to church together as a family. It was very important. As I got older, my parents’ sense of faith made more of an impact on me. That they prayed together every night really made an impact.”