Catholic Sentinel photos by Ed Langlois
Jim Flynn and Jean Mitchell have a laugh over their political debates.
Catholic Sentinel photos by Ed Langlois
Jim Flynn and Jean Mitchell have a laugh over their political debates.
Two prolific writers of letters to the Catholic Sentinel, one who leans right and one who leans left, are siblings. Portlanders Jean Mitchell and Jim Flynn are devoted Catholics, pro-life advocates, parents of large families and supporters of good causes like St. Vincent de Paul, Blanchet House of Hospitality and local schools.

But if Mitchell, 83, and Flynn, 80, get going on politics, sparks fly. The two have even debated each other on the Sentinel letters page.

“I’m the older, wiser one,” jokes Mitchell, who favors liberal ideologies and causes.
“I operate from the facts,” responds Flynn, the conservative.

The last moment of convergence in their politics came in 1956, when both voted for Dwight Eisenhower.

Flynn and Mitchell consider themselves moderate, but consider each other part of the fringe.

Their paternal grandparents were immigrants from Ireland and their mother’s mother was a member of Oregon’s venerable Parrett family, as in Parrett Mountain. Their parents met in college at Oregon State and started a family as the Great Depression set in. Their father sold eggs, cars and real estate. Their mother, who loved history, worked in the home, as well as in the offices of several businesses. The parents were outgoing, active in clubs and entertained often. They had a role in the opening of Central Catholic in 1939.

Political discussion was not part of Mitchell and Flynn’s childhood in Northeast Portland. There were no impassioned pleas around the dinner table or family trips to rallies. As with many Catholics in the first part of the 20th century, the parents voted for Democrats. There were four Flynn children; the other two appear to be centrists in their views.

Mitchell, a mother of five and grandmother of 22 who lost her husband four years ago, traces her ideology to her parents and to Catholic schools — The Madeleine, St. Rose and St. Mary’s Academy. She embraced Catholic social teaching, which stands up for people on the margins, whether they are unborn, poor, immigrants, or prisoners on death row. Liberal ideas fit her logic, she explains, because God seems to love the poor and Jesus embraced people who were cast out and despised.

Flynn, a graduate of Central Catholic and University of Portland, sold insurance and organized and taught youth tennis. He gravitated to the GOP early on, becoming a precinct chairman. He was even courted to run for office. He thought unions were going too far and decided society suffers when people pursue handouts instead of work. Conservatism makes sense, he says, because deviating from tradition leaves a person vulnerable, like an antelope that has wandered from the herd.

Mitchell watches MSNBC. Flynn gets his news from FOX.

He thinks it’s a good idea for government aid recipients to get tested for drugs. She thinks that would be insulting. He thinks President Obama wants to extend federal control over all areas of U.S. life. She thinks the president has good ideas to alleviate income inequality. He thinks Obamacare is a disaster. She would like to extend it even further to provide universal coverage.

They agree on little when it comes to civic life. But both affirm it is important to make one’s voice heard. So they write letters to the editor, both to the Sentinel and the Oregonian.

Both admire Pope Francis, recognizing the effect of leading by example. But, as with most topics, a debate emerges. While Mitchell calls the pope’s comments on economic systems transforming, Flynn says the media have skewed papal thought when it comes to the critique of capitalism.