Candidate for Selectboard: F. X. Flinn

Hi, my name is F. X. Flinn and I’m running for the Hartford, Vermont Board of Selectmen on Town Meeting Day in 2011. The election will be held on Tuesday, March 8th. This blog is designed to give the voters in our community an opportunity to connect directly with me in a fashion that allows everyone to join in the conversation.

First off, I want to explain my initials. They are for Francis Xavier. Most guys named Francis Xavier go by Frank, as I did when I was a kid. Toward the end of my time in high school, I was getting tired of looking at my by-line in the high school newspaper and wanted to change it from ‘Frank Flinn’ to something else. By the time I went off to Cornell University in the fall of 1971, I’d decided to just use my initials, F. X., having heard from my grandpa that when he was a kid in Brooklyn there was a bar called “F. X. McRory’s.” As fate would have it, I was given a roommate who was wonderfully charismatic, one of those people who uses a turn of phrase that everyone adopts. He immediately began using ‘F. X.’ as a nickname and, in a new environment where nobody knew me as Frank, it stuck. In the 40 years since, I’ve heard about 72 other “F. X.”‘s, and met three, including F. X. Matt, the beer brewer in Utica NY (Saranac, Matts etc) who encouraged me to stick with it.

The original Francis Xavier was, along with Ignatius Loyola and Aloysius Gonzaga, one of the founders of the Jesuits, the Roman Catholic order devoted to education, missionary work, and the intellectual defense of the faith. They were all Basques, the ethnic group that lives in the Pyrannies Mountains between Spain and France, and the Basques speak a language that is unrelated to any other on the planet. That’s why their names are fairly odd; in fact the “X” in Xavier (which is pronounced ZAVE-yer, not X-zave-yer) and the “J” in Javier (pronounced HA-vee-air) each have half the sound of the consonant in Basque. I once met a Basque and asked him to say Xavier for me. The first consonant was a strange mix of the Z and H sounds the English/German and the Spanish/French hear. Anthropologists and archeologists thing the Basques have been in Europe for nearly 50,000 years, by far the oldest group in Europe; this is why their language is so strange and ancient to our ears.

A good question is why Irish Catholics name their sons for Basque Jesuits. Mostly it has to do with the influence of the Jesuits’ high school and college system, and the respect and gratitude they earned raising the sons and daughters of immigrants from Ireland in New York and Boston during the 19th and 20th centuries. But there is also another thread, a deeper one: the first Catholic colony in the New World, Maryland, was established by the Lord Baltimore, his sons and their friends in the English gentry, and their servants, overwhelmingly Irish, from around Cork. Father Andrew White, a Jesuit, was their priest. When they disembarked at what is now Leonardtown, MD in 1639, they planted a community that would flourish and contribute significantly to the development of religious freedom (in 1649 a law establishing freedom of worship was enacted by the Maryland legislature), to the American Revolution, and the settlement of Kentucky. I am a child of both the NY Irish immigrant thread, on my dad’s side (his grandfather was a Francis) AND the Marylanders on my mom’s side; many of my Marylander grandfathers were also named Francis Xavier. My mom held out on calling me F. X. for about a decade, until the day I got married, by her brother, my uncle Charlie, a Jesuit who taught constitutional law at Fordham. “Ladies and Gentlemen,” he said after the wedding ceremony was complete, “I give you Mr & Mrs F. X. Flinn.”

The original Francis Xavier was a man of considerable learning and courage, and not a little bit of an adventurer. He went to Asia, particularly Japan and India, looking to open a dialog between the Church and those ancient civilizations. My life pales in comparison, though my work first in the publishing world and later in the high-tech industry has provided me with a lifetime of continuous learning. I will promise to bring my willingness to study and my certainty that our democratic forms of self government can work for the positive enhancement of our lives to the job of Selectman.

In future posts I will start to address some of the questions facing Hartford and the role of the Selectboard in answering those questions. Please join me in this dialog.

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