SALT LAKE CITY — The Most Reverend John C. Wester, Bishop of the Diocese of Salt Lake City, said April 7, the day of the funeral for Father William Henry Flegge, reminded him of Pope John XXII, who loved funerals.
"Every day is a good day to be born," Bishop Wester quoted Pope John XXII, "and every day is a good day to die."
The Cathedral of the Madeleine was filled with the people and the things that Fr. Flegge loved: good friends, good music, and his fellow priests. Those on the altar were those with whom he had served at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, Salt Lake City, Saint James Parish, Ogden, St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Orem, and Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Salt Lake City.
Born in Magna in 1930, and ordained a priest by the late Bishop Joseph Lennox Federal April 30, 1960, in the Cathedral of the Madeleine, Fr. Flegge is survived by his sister, Donna, a sister-in-law, Carol Flegge, nieces, nephews, and cousins. Bishop Wester thanked all of the family and friends for their gentle care of Fr. Flegge during his last days, including Jody Ipsen and Paul Walstead.
During his priestly ministry, in addition to serving as pastor, associate pastor, and parochial vicar at the parishes mentioned above, Fr. Flegge taught at Judge Memorial Catholic High School for nine years.
"Father Bill loved the Church and he loved the priesthood," said Bishop Wester. "Both the Church and the world were growing and changing at an incredible rate during his lifetime."
"At one time there was a big church in a small world; for some time, there was a small church in a big world. For a time, the Church was the world in which he lived, and culture and civilization continued through the Church, and part of every life was in every aspect.
"But the world became more complex and intricate," the bishop said. "The Church was challenged with secularism, materialism, pluralism, and relativism.
But the Church itself did not stay static, he said. "In the early 1960’s we experienced Vatican Council II.
"Fr. Bill was ordained April 30, 1960. There followed about five years of calm. Then many years, right in the middle of everything – the perfect storm.
"Fr. Bill heard and remained faithful to Christ’s call, thus touching all our lives. His path took a variety of twists and turns, but he remained open to Christ’s call throughout his life, and he never stopped loving his priesthood."
The bishop told the story about a little boy he’s met in front of the cathedral last Sunday, who looked up and said to him, "Father Flegge was my priest."
"That’s something we can all say - that he loved us all.
"The readings he selected for his funeral underscore his life’s journey and his priestly service.
"The Book of Wisdom speaks of the immortality of the Old Testament clearer here than in most places: this gift comes about not through our merits but through our openness to the blood of Jesus. Still, God’s grace at work in us does not deny our humanness; rather, it underscores its beauty that was very remarkable in Father Bill."
Bishop Wester said Father Flegge loved people. He loved to be with them, especially the children. "He was a good listener. He looked at you with those piercing blue eyes, and you knew you were attended. He was gentle, tranquil, and peaceful. He was a good friend."
Commenting on Fr. Flegge’s love of life, Bishop Wester related the story of Fr. Bill giving a popsicle to Jody’s mother just before she died. In turn, Jody gave Fr. Bill a popsicle a few days before he died, and it made him smile.
"Fr. Bill dealt with life’s thorny issues," Bishop Wester said. "He was frightened when he returned to active ministry, but he found encouragement in his family and friends.
"He was very human; he was not afraid to show warmth, anger, or that he could cry. He was a real person who had many sufferings from early on in life and throughout his life." said Bishop Wester. "He was open to life, and always tried to face challenges head on.
Fr. Flegge selected Paul’s Letter to the Romans, Bishop Wester said, because it reflected that eternal life is part of our relationship with Christ. It is so powerful that no forces, not even death can conquer it.
"We celebrate this holiest of weeks with the Paschal Mystery."
Bishop Wester spoke of Fr. Flegge’s devotion to prayer, how he taught centering prayer to others, and how he would sit in a chair in front of the tabernacle for an hour; how he loved Mary, and that he had a great devotion to the rosary, right up to his death.
"He celebrated Mass with gentleness and reverence," the bishop said. "Christ was the center of his life. He brought his faith to all situations, in long discussions with family and friends. Fr. Bill gave witness to God’s infinite love for us."
He selected the Gospel according to John because it speaks of Christ preparing rooms for each of us, the bishop said. "It speaks to us of Baptism, personal death, and the end of time. Christ is abiding with us and caring for us, coming to us at various stages of our lives.
Fr. Bill did that in his ministry, the bishop said. "He loved being a pastor at St. James, St. Francis of Assisi, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and Our Lady of Lourdes. He gave down to earth homilies and accepted difficult assignments. He was the bridge between the old timers and the new comers. He worked well with youth, and he covered the very demanding central Utah. He was fond of high school work, and he cared for his brother priests. He worked with lay groups."
In funeral homilies, Fr. Flegge emphasized Easter, the resurrection, said Bishop Wester, "and the life of Christ eternal for all of us.
"Fr. Bill would remind us all that life does not end with the death of a person, nor does it end with his own death because of the eternal life of Christ and because of all the lives we touch. Fr. Bill wanted to live for a long, long time. He lived in Christ for eternity and here because of the lives he touched so beautifully."
The bishop recalled the boy he’d met in the cathedral the week before – the boy who said, "Fr. Flegge was my priest." And he imagined Jesus saying exactly the same thing, and adding, "Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter the joy prepared for you from the foundation of the world, where every tear will be wiped away and where you will feast at the banquet of Christ’s never ending love and mercy.