George Edward Lynch


Satafi in Mauretania Caesariensi was a town in the western part of modern Algeria, and its chief claim to fame was that it was the birthplace of Marcus Opellius Macrinus who succeeded Caracalla as emperor, albeit for just 14 months. Because the Berbers there eventually were Islamicized, it was ripe as a defunct diocese to become the Titular See of George Edward Lynch (1917-2003) when he was ordained auxiliary bishop of Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1970. He retired 15 years later without having had a diocese of his own, save for that vague, arid African abstraction, but to thousands he was a most convincing specimen of apostolic succession as the vibrant DNA of the Faith. 

Born in New York, he assumed that he would be a priest there, but soon enough he was recruited as a missionary in North Carolina, which to most New Yorkers in his time was as exotic as Satafi in Mauretania Caeasariensi. The Archdiocese of New York had an overplus of priests as the Diocese of Raleigh had an underplus, and soon after World War II George Lynch was inviting others to join him as priests where Catholics were rare and often unwelcome. Although he led opposition to racial segregation prudently and without strife, his work for civil rights did not make Catholicism blend into the cultural fabric. In 15 years as auxiliary bishop, he was able to see the fruits of his labor in the coalescence of a New South, and in retirement he was vigorous enough to take up a new cause when he returned to live with his sister in New York.

He latched on to the precedent of Thomas Lynch (no relation), one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, as a model of the men who would “mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.” I have a copy of his personal transcript of those words, in handwriting as neat and precise as he was in figure and regimen, tall and white-haired with a gentle manner and soft speech more Carolina than Bronx. Over the years of his work with Operation Rescue, he was arrested many times around the United States and abroad, including Russia. The circumstances of his confinement often were harsh, and yet he enjoyed the chance to evangelize men who were imprisoned for less altruistic acts. During a demonstration outside an abortion center in West Hartford, Connecticut, he was severely beaten by policemen who had removed their nameplates and badges.

Gradually all this took a toll on his health, and once during Mass at St. Agnes Church, where I was living, he fainted and returned after resting briefly on a vesting table in the sacristy. A happiness of his later years was celebrating Mass in the older Latin rite, and I do not think he ever excused himself from confirming thousands of young people, making the best use of his free years. From behind the scenes, John Cardinal O’Connor approved and encouraged his self-crafted apostolate in the pro-life movement, and when Bishop Lynch died in his 60th year of priesthood and 33rd as bishop, the cardinal privately remarked only half jokingly when the funeral was over that it might not be too soon to start work on his canonization. 

 

It was during his sabbatical in Rome a few years before his retirement that I got to know him, he celebrating Mass and I preaching in the church of our patron San Giorgio in Velabro. At the time I was most conscious that it had been the titular church of Cardinal Newman, but now I also think of it for Bishop Lynch having offered the Holy Sacrifice there.

No one in that church of St. George had to persuade George Lynch that dragons are real. He dueled with them much of his life. In that letter of his that I have here on my desk, he says that “many who have been penalized by heavy fines, long prison terms, and in various other ways” for protesting against abortions could “say and mean” the pledge made by Thomas Lynch of South Carolina and his 55 fellow signers n 1776, “and I am willing, come what may, to be numbered among them.” 


Fr. George W. Rutler

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Fr. George W. Rutler is pastor of St. Michael's church in New York City. He is the author of many books including Principalities and Powers: Spiritual Combat 1942-1943 (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press) and Hints of Heaven (Sophia Institute Press). His latest books are He Spoke To Us (Ignatius, 2016); The Stories of Hymns (EWTN Publishing, 2017); and Calm in Chaos (Ignatius, 2018).

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