Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Priest and the Actor

Everyone my age knows who Mark Walhberg is. We grew up listening to him sing in New Kids on the Block, and watched him drop from view, only to return as a model and finally as an actor. However, very few of us know that is was a priest who made the biggest difference in his life.

I have known Fr. Jim Flavin for many years, so I was one of the few who knew the story, but for the rest of you, here are some excerpts from a article in the Patriot-Ledger.


The Rev. Jim Flavin instantly recognized the voice on the phone. It was Mark Wahlberg, calling to ask the Brockton priest for guidance.

It was the night before the Oscars, and the tough-guy actor wanted help writing an acceptance speech in case he won the award for best supporting actor.

‘‘I told him to thank his family and God,’’ the Rev. Flavin said.

It was the same advice the priest gave Wahlberg 20 years ago when they first met.It was 2 a.m. in one of Boston’s toughest neighborhoods. Sheltered by darkness, youths were peddling drugs on a street corner. But that night they were being watched - not by undercover cops, but by a fearless young priest.

The gang was surprised when he marched up and demanded: ‘‘What the heck are you doing?’’

The Rev. Flavin, now pastor at St. Edith Stein Church in Brockton, remembers the moment well. It was his first encounter with Wahlberg, then 16.

That was 1987 in Dorchester - a far cry from the glamour of Hollywood, where Wahlberg was nominated last month for an Academy Award for his role in ‘‘The Departed.’’

‘‘Father Flavin takes responsibility for saving my life,’’ Wahlberg said recently.

To Wahlberg, that’s no exaggeration. He was one of a group of hell-raising kids the priest dedicated himself to saving.

Wahlberg fought back tears as he described how the priest saved him from a life of crime.

‘‘It took me far too long to realize that the real heroes are there all the time. Where we grew up, we had a tendency to look for the wrong role models in the wrong places. But he helped us realize who the real heroes are. He is my hero, my mentor, my friend, my brother.

‘‘He knows me better than anyone else. I can tell him anything. I can totally be myself. I also get to kick his ass at golf!’’

(...)

The actor is just one of countless youngsters whose lives have been turned around with help from the charismatic priest.

‘‘I used to go out when I was young, thinking I could change the world,’’ the Rev. Flavin said, remembering his days in Dorchester.

‘‘It was an area where the kids respected the priest. They all knew who the local priest was and were surprised to see me working at that time of night.’’

Before the Rev. Flavin’s intervention, Wahlberg’s rap sheet was long and getting longer.

‘‘I managed to get him off the streets and into the basketball team, which played in the Catholic church basketball league,’’ the Rev. Flavin recalled.

He remembers Wahlberg as a hothead who needed special attention.

‘‘Mark played basketball for us a lot. Every game a fight would break out and he was always at the center of it.

‘‘So I would hook him up with the coach that was from the inner city and who was brilliant at dealing with tough characters. It helped a lot.’’

(...)

Not all of his work has been blessed with success.

‘‘I have buried some of them because of drugs, and some are still in jail for murder,’’ he said.‘‘I just do my best and trust in God. My faith is at the center of it all. It shows me that everyone is redeemable and that everyone has value.’’

(...)

He (Fr. Flavin) also is one of two Brockton Police Department chaplains specializing in helping officers cope with tragedies they encounter on the job.

Police Chief William Conlon has known the Rev. Flavin for more than a decade and described him as ‘‘a great friend to everyone’’ at the station.

‘‘Father Jim reaches out to people,’’ Conlon said. ‘‘He doesn’t wait for you to come to him. If he thinks you need help, he is there offering it. He has been a great presence for our community.’’

Read the complete article here.

2 comments:

Brian Michael Page said...

Wasn't he a kids' game show host for a time as well?
BMP
(PS: sorry, I originally posted comment in wrong thread)

Domini Sumus said...

I'm not sure. He was a rapper for a while, but I don't remember anything about a game show.

On the other post I was trying to figure out if you were saying the photographer or Pope Benedict had been a kids game show host. lol