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Monk achieves St. Vincent distinction

| Sunday, May 13, 2012, 11:46 p.m.

So much has changed, Father Flavian says.

St. Vincent is different. It's bigger. Busier.

Across the quad, construction workers are framing a new dormitory. He stood here in 1920, watching others build the hall it replaces.

Men mow the lawns. A small plane approaches the airport across the street.

"We're living in a different age," he says.

His age caused something of a stir this spring. Flavian Yelinko is 95 now. He has lived 89 days longer than any monk in the history of St. Vincent Seminary. Father Donald, a former mathematician, figured that out.

They held a dinner for him. He had prime rib.

The novitiates come to see him now. They ask how things used to be.

The roads were dirt, he tells them. The busiest went up to the cemetery. That, too, is much larger today.

"There were no automobiles then," he says. "And there was a fence all the way around the grounds."

Brother Jake had the only telephone. He was a porter, responsible for the lawns. When he worked outside, that phone rang unanswered.

"He was the only one who mowed the lawn," Father Flavian says. "You can imagine the wilderness here."

He arrived at age 14, drawn by a Benedictine who visited his home church in Palmerton. He was an altar boy then, the fourth of eight children. He yearned to be a missionary.

The Franciscans tried to recruit him. "They were ready to carry me out of there," he says, laughing.

But the Benedictine said very little.

"I said to him, 'I'm thinking of being a priest,'" he says.

"He said, 'That's very nice.' No fanfare at all. I thought this must be someplace special."

He had four years of preparatory school, and two more at the college. A year's tuition, with room and board, cost $350 then.

The priests were strict.

"All of us had to wear our habits. And we had to walk with our hands like this," he says, clasping his, hiding them under his robe.

"When we joined, we were told that we would not be allowed to go home until we were ordained," he says. "That was six years."

He asked for a leave when his father grew ill. He was allowed home only for the funeral.

His first job was in the library. The archabbot called him into what had been the college bookstore. Books had been dumped on the floor — too many for the shelves, which were painted to look like mahogany.

He organized them, then ordered tables and chairs. The Benedictine professors assigned readings from books on his wish list.

He tried to trade books with the Carnegie Library. "But they saw us as small potatoes."

Eventually they called back. They wanted a rare book, and he had two copies.

"Now the shoe's on the other foot," he says. He agreed to the loan, but only if the library made a $10,000 deposit, and only if the book came back with a police escort. The Carnegie agreed.

He retired in 1978, after pastoral assignments in Baltimore, Erie, Ohio and Virginia, and a year at St. Bruno Parish in South Greensburg. By then he'd substituted grape juice for the communion wine, which made him dizzy.

"I thought I would go out of my mind, for lack of something to do," he says. So he organized the seminary's archives. He also compiled a list of all the students who had attended.

"I loved it," he says. "I used to work seven days a week; nine, 10 hours a day."

Now his days are simpler. He walks the campus, hugging members of the college staff — the baker, a cashier, the post office clerk. He reads his newspaper, and he naps after "The Price is Right." He sips an occasional martini.

He's more careful with his faith.

"In your younger days, you act a little bit careless," he says. "As I got older, I went to office a bit more."

That brought him even closer to God.

"I feel sort of relaxed now," he says. "I'd be ready to die at any time. And at one time I wouldn't have been."

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