“I asked him where the shelves were, then he pointed them out to me. They were there on the floor. He said ‘it’s your job to put them together and fit them in this room. You have until the opening day of school to get this all together,'” recounts Father Flavian Yelinko, O.S.B. The year was 1930, Pluto had just been discovered, sliced bread was just made available to consumers, and Vatican City had just been instituted as an independent state. At this time, the newly appointed Archabbot Alfred Koch put Father Flavian, a young seminarian and Benedictine monk just 24 years old, as the new charge of the Saint Vincent Library.
Father Flavian categorized the books according to the Dewey Decimal System and set up chairs and tables for study centers. He also instituted a ‘check-out’ procedure for the books. Monks and students were used to taking books in and out as they pleased, so the system change did not go over so well at first. Another difficulty Father Flavian ran into was trying to create an inter-library loan relationship with other, larger, libraries in the area. The Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh wanted nothing to do with the small college library; however, the Carnegie Library shortly found that Saint Vincent was a valuable resource. Since the Saint Vincent Library was registered with the Library of Congress in Washington D.C., the Carnegie Library was able to find a book missing from their collection at Saint Vincent. In fact, Saint Vincent had two copies of the book. Carnegie asked to borrow the book and Saint Vincent’s first interlibrary loan program was established. Father Flavian would continue working as librarian at Saint Vincent for ten more years before he began his pastoral assignments.
He has not only witnessed the beginnings of the Saint Vincent Library, but nearly every change on the Saint Vincent campus and many in the world around it. Father Flavian is also the only monk at Saint Vincent who has met every archabbot in Saint Vincent’s history (except Boniface Wimmer, who died in 1887).
Turning 100 on September 2, 2006, makes Father Flavian the longest-living monk in the history of Saint Vincent Archabbey. “It was a very significant milestone in the life of our community,” Archabbot Douglas said. The monastic community held a dinner in Father Flavian’s honor. Father Flavian was born in Palmerton, Pennsylvania, in 1906, the year Kellogg’s started to sell Corn Flakes and the infamous San Francisco Earthquake occurred. As a young boy Father Flavian was attracted to the Benedictine Order. He arrived at Saint Vincent in 1920 for four years of Preparatory School and two years of college education. In 1920, the cost for one year’s tuition, room, and board was $350.00.
He witnessed the construction of a new Seminary residence building, Aurelius Hall, which would later be converted to a freshman dorm for Saint Vincent College. Father Flavian also recounts that “when I got here, the whole place had one telephone, manned by Brother Jake in the monastery. When he was mowing the lawn, there was no one to answer the phone.”
Father Flavian made his first vows as a Benedictine monk on July 2, 1927, and professed his solemn vows on July 11, 1930. During these three years, bubble gum was invented, penicillin was discovered, and the Stock Market Crash of 1929 affected thousands of lives. However, Father Flavian pressed forth in his mission. He completed his four years of theological study and was ordained a priest by Bishop Hugh Boyle of Pittsburgh in the Saint Vincent Archabbey Church on June 18, 1933 – just about five months after Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany. After forty-three years of pastoral assignments, a world war, the invention of the automobile, Vatican II, and the onset of the age of technology, Father Flavian retired on August 1, 1978, and returned to Saint Vincent. Due to his knowledgeable background in the history of Saint Vincent, Father Flavian served as Seminary Archivist from 1981-1985. He established the archives as well as set up a directory of all Seminary alumni.
Today, at age 100, he is a valuable member of Saint Vincent as he continues to grace and charm the Saint Vincent community with his years of wisdom and experience.
By Vanessa Shepherd