Rev. Edward F. Flaherty, S.J., oldest Jesuit in the world, dies in St. Louis at 104

Rev. Edward F. Flaherty, S.J., died Sunday, June 25, 2023, at St. Ignatius Hall in Florissant, Missouri. He was 104 years old, a Jesuit for 63 years and a priest for 58 years. At his death, he was the oldest Jesuit in the global Society of Jesus.

His Jesuit brothers will commend him to his heavenly father at a Mass of Christian Burial in the Jesuit chapel at St. Ignatius Hall at Garden Villas North in Florissant, Missouri, at 10 a.m. on Saturday, July 8. A visitation will precede the funeral in the same chapel at 9:30 a.m. Burial will follow in Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis.

The funeral Mass will be live streamed on You Tube. Search for “Mass of Christian Burial for Fr. Ed Flaherty, S.J.” 

Ed Flaherty was born in Kansas City, Missouri, on Oct. 3, 1918, to Edward and Mary Elizabeth Best Flaherty. In addition to his parents, he was preceded in death by his sister, Sister Rita Flaherty, CSJ, and his brother, Donald M. Flaherty, II. He is survived by his niece, Amy Hetherington, and his nephew Brian Flaherty.

He attended Rockhurst High School, the Jesuit high school in Kansas City, graduating in 1936. He then attended Rockhurst College and earned a B.A. in English, Philosophy, and Latin in 1940. He then entered the armed forces during World War II and served for six years, mostly in the medical corps.

After leaving the Army, he worked in business for several years until a close friend and classmate’s decision to enter the Society of Jesus caused him to contemplate taking the step himself. He made inquiries in 1958 and was told to work on his Latin for a year and test his determination. The next year, at age 40, he entered the novitiate in Florissant, Missouri, on Sept. 1, 1959. He pronounced first vows on Sept. 2, 1961, and was ordained a priest on June 9, 1965, at St. Mary’s College in St. Marys, Kansas. He pronounced final vows on Nov. 6, 1971, at Regis College in Denver.

Father Flaherty began his apostolic ministry teaching Church History and the Old and New Testaments at Regis College in Denver 1968-72. In 1971, he also took on the role of an auxiliary chaplain at Lowry Air Force Base in Denver, which he continued until 1994, and as a chaplain for the Knights of Columbus.

From 1972 until 1975, he taught sacramental and spiritual theology at St. Thomas Seminary in Denver and in 1972 also became Coordinator of Religious Activities at Regis College, which he continued until 1982.

In his spare time, he taught adult education in local parishes. From 1983 to 1987, he taught theology in the night school at Regis; after this, he continued his adult education work only in parishes and on the Air Force Base.

From 1994 to 2015, he ministered at the Shrine of St. Anne in Arvada, and was the State Chaplain of the Knights of Columbus, 1995-97.

In 2021, at the age of 102, he was finally missioned to the Jesuit senior community in St. Louis, but his health and energy did not really falter until recently. 

There is some irony to the story that those in charge of vocations at the time of Fr. Flaherty’s entrance felt it necessary to test his determination; to anyone who knew him, that quality was never in doubt! He was firm in his faith and unwavering in his devotion — to the Lord, to his family, to his friends.

His first apostolic assignment to Regis College began a love affair of more than 50 years with Colorado, especially its mountains. His life of simplicity was reflected in the modest number of belongings that made the move to St. Louis after more than a century of living.

Father Flaherty earned a Ph. L. and an S.T.B. from Saint Louis University. He also earned a master’s degree in theology from the University of San Francisco.

Colleagues and friends of Flaherty, including the Rev. John Fitzgibbons, S.J., the former president of Regis University, offered memories of him:

“Meeting Father Ed Flaherty was an experience of grace. While I had met Father years before, I came to know him in 2012, when I was missioned to Regis University. He brought gentle wisdom to every conversation…along with some dry wit! 

While he was living at Xavier Jesuit Community very near the Regis campus, he made his heart-felt reverence for the Society of Jesus and the Church evident. Moreover, as a World War II veteran, He expressed great gratitude for fellow vets. Though he was highly decorated, he never spoke of himself or his experiences in the South Pacific. Yet he knew the trauma of war, the cost of war. 

When the United States government wanted to give him the medals and commendations he had earned while serving in the Army, Father Flaherty demurred. Yet, his brother Jesuits kept encouraging him to receive the thanks of a grateful nation. Finally, the minister of the Xavier Jesuit Community called one of our US Representatives, Congressman Ed Perlmutter, Father was awarded several medals and citations for outstanding service to his country. Alerted to the ceremony, I met with Father just before the Congressman and an Army General spoke. Father Flaherty leaned in close and whispered, 'John, I am embarrassed but grateful…but if you had anything to do with this, I’ll get even!'

Father Flaherty was a quietly heroic servant of God. He taught at Regis University with vigor and love for students and faculty. He worked with and accompanied veterans who trusted him profoundly. He served the people of God in many parishes with Godly care.”

Former Regis President the Rev. Michael Sheeran, S.J., said he will remember Flaherty’s gift for conversation.

“Whether he was teaching a class, playing a round of golf, or offering Sunday Mass at St. Anne’s in Arvada, Ed always knew how to take time for a conversation,” Sheeran said. “If you brought him a problem, he asked helpful questions that also let you know he wanted to support you. I’ll truly miss him.”

Rev. William T. Oulvey, S.J., of the Sacred Heart Retreat House in Sedalia, Colorado, offered a reflection of his friend:

“I first met Fr. Ed Flaherty, during the summer of 1975 when a group of Missouri Province Novices took vacation at the Jesuit Villa of Maryvale in Fraser, Colorado. He was the local superior and offered us hospitality we all warmly remembered. That was the way Fr. Ed cared for so many people, Jesuit and lay people.

Many, many years later, in 2016 when I came to Denver as Superior of the Jesuit Community at Regis University and Arrupe Jesuit High School, Ed lived ‘down the hill’ at Xavier Jesuit Center. He was concerned that the records of Maryvale that he shepherded for these many years would be lost. The two of us packaged these records and sent them to the Province Archives. Preserving our history was important to Ed.

Likewise, When the parishioners of the Shrine of St. Anne in Arvada celebrated his 100th birthday, Ed was thrilled yet, he would say, what’s the fuss? Humble to the core.

When the time came for Ed and the other members of Xavier Jesuit Center to move to St. Louis, he took the time to travel by car with his grandnieces and nephews to his hometown of Kansas City, Missouri, before arriving at Jesuit Hall. It was bittersweet and poignant to leave a place he had served for over 50 years, yet he did so with graciousness, generosity, and a quiet sense of adventure.

I miss him and our conversations after Mass, at social and dinner. May he rest in peace.”

Regis School of Physical Therapy Assistant Dean and Professor Ira Gorman remembered Flaherty's kindness.

"Father Ed Flaherty was the most kind and gentle man I ever met. He was always quick to say hello and greet me when I came over to Xavier House and was soft spoken and pleasant. He always asked about my family whether I was coming over to treat him or just have drinks and dinner. He loved to tell stories about his younger days even before he became a Jesuit and was a Folgers coffee salesman after the war. I was there when he turned 100 and never doubted he would go beyond that. He almost made it to 105!

Two things I remember:

He always apologized for not being able to lift his arm after he hurt his shoulder. I would see him for work on his shoulder and show him some exercises but he would apologize if he could not do it.

He also loved the Jesuits but also his glass of scotch that I shared with him each week and he loved to talk about playing golf with his friends on Mondays at Willis Case. He would ride in the cart at 101 and they would let him hit around three shots on the front nine. I never had the honor of playing with him but always wanted to."

Rev. Eustace Sequeira, S.J., refelcted on living with Flaherty:

Living with Ed was a delight. He was always available and had a gift of bringing thoughts of peace and joy in any discussion he had. This is what made him so beloved by all he worked with. You would never know that he was over a hundred years old while he lived at Xavier House. His room was tidy and with every item he needed in its place.
He did not showcase his past nor his abilities that made him what he was. We did tease him about being a salesman for coffee before he decided to join the Jesuits, after witnessing the entry to that same group of a dear friend of his. His education as a Jesuit culminated in an M.A. in Theology which gave him the tools to teach both at the Denver Catholic Seminary and at Regis, where he did most of his apostolic work in education.
Besides teaching Church History, Old and New Testament, and Sacramental and spiritual theology at St. Thomas Seminary in Denver and at Regis College, he was an auxiliary chaplain at Lowry Air Force Base in Denver and chaplain for the Knights of Colombus. He also taught Theology in the night school at Regis. Ed Flaherty was also Coordinator of Religious Activities at Regis College for ten years.
The people of Arvada particularly missed him once he was sent on his final journey to St. Louis, as he continued to minister to them and in other parishes in Denver until his 102nd year of life. That was when he was awarded the medals his companions had received years earlier.
Ed Flaherty had served as a medic in the Army from 1941 to 1945. He earned these awards during that time, but never actually received the medals.
"While serving in the Army, Edward was a Medical Technician with the 131st Engineer Regiment Medical Detachment, in which he played an essential role in treating his fellow soldiers' wounds and injuries while also assisting with evacuations for casualties," officials stated.
It was only in June 2021 that he received the medals that were his due, and that because he was not told before hand about the plan. The recognitions he received during the ceremony included: Army Good Conduct Medal; American Defense Service Medal; American Campaign Medal; Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with two Bronze Service Stars; World War II Victory Medal; Honorable Service Lapel Button – WWII; and Philippine Liberation Ribbon with one Bronze Service Star.
Fr. Ed Flaherty, S.J., served his country both at the time of need as a medic, and later as a Jesuit priest and teacher."

We remember with gratitude all that God has done through his life of service to God and God’s people.

Memorial gifts may be made to the USA Central and Southern Province of the Society of Jesus at 4511 West Pine Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63108 or online at