Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

A working class hero for the lilies of the alley

  • June 17, 2022

It all started with a phone call. When the Daughters of St. Paul arrived in downtown Chicago in 1979, we were in need of a garbage pickup company. Why not continue with the company that had already been servicing our building? When the Sisters called Flood Brothers Disposal, little did they know the lifelong friendship it would kick off. Mike and Joe Flood were fervent Irish Catholics and…practical jokers. They first pretended to be atheists, but eventually came clean (pun intended) and began picking up our trash gratis, along with financially supporting our media mission.

Mike also supported Catholic schools — in unique ways. He would raffle off “events” like “the night route on the garbage truck in downtown Chicago” to the highest bidder. Donors vied to hang off the back of garbage trucks and have a job-shadowing experience. It was all filmed for posterity, and highlights included cash hanging out of a beat-up wallet that had been thrown out; as well as enjoying tea and cookies served on a tray by the Daughters of St. Paul on an upturned trash can. Mike relished referring to us as “lilies of the alley.”

Another prized event was raising enough money for a particular school that would then require the nun-principal to spend the day at her desk… on the roof.

But what always impressed us most about Mike was his faith. Mike truly believed everything he was taught about God by the Catholic Church. He believed in prayer, in miracles. He credited St. Joseph’s oil with fixing his injured garbage man’s back — even though the cure wasn’t instant, he prayed for many years before an inexplicable healing occurred.

Mike was uncompromisingly pro-life. He never fell for lies, for convenient ways of living or for watered down truth. He believed in the saving power of Jesus Christ through the Mass as the answer to life’s problems. He relied constantly on the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He liked to say that “all garbage is potential greatness, because Our Lady chose a garbage dump to appear on at Lourdes.” It’s true. Look it up.

Once, when the Sisters were invited to the Flood home, Mike enthusiastically played a video for us of the moment one of his daughters had received her First Communion from Pope John Paul II. These were the things Mike valued most. His saintly wife, Carole, had a similar value system. When he tried to lavish her with expensive jewelry, she told him: “I don’t want that stuff!” Mike: “What do you want?” “A gumball machine for the grandkids.”

A crisis of faith came when Mike’s brother, Joe, passed away fairly young. The pair had been inseparable and fed off each other’s antics. Mike told us later he was mad at God for three full years after Joe’s death. But he never lost his sense of humour. Shortly after Joe died, Mike was at the convent chatting with us. He grabbed a cup of coffee and headed downstairs to the bookstore. Suddenly, we heard the horrifying sound of Mike tumbling down the metal-tipped stairs. We rushed to see if he was still in one piece. Without missing a beat, Mike — covered in coffee — declared: “Joe pushed me!”

Mike’s trust in God made him able to be joyful in the midst of hardship, and not take himself too seriously. This was an astounding lesson for us “women of the cloth”: You can be an adult with a large family (nine children), many worrisome concerns, yet you can still have fun and reach beyond yourself to do tremendous charity.

As Flood Brothers Disposal and Recycling grew, Mike hired ex-cons right out of prison so they could have honest work. He dug wells in Africa. He paid for scholarships to expensive private Catholic high schools for inner-city youth. He wanted to save the world.

On June 4, 2022, Mike’s weak heart gave out and he breathed his last at 82. A light has gone out on Earth. He is now reunited in eternity with Jesus and Mary and his beloved “girlfriend,” Carole. The Daughters of St. Paul will be forever grateful for Mike’s presence, example, prayers, wisdom, beneficence and humour in our lives and in our apostolate.

(Sr. Burns, fsp, is a Daughter of St. Paul. She holds a Masters in Media Literacy Education and studied screenwriting at UCLA. Twitter: @srhelenaburns.)

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