The subject of Flying Padre is a Catholic priest in rural New Mexico, Father Fred Stadtmueller. Because his 4000-square mile parish is so large, he uses a Piper Cub airplane (named the "Spirit of St. Joseph") to travel from one isolated settlement to another. The film shows him providing spiritual guidance, saying a funeral Mass, and serving as an impromptu air ambulance by flying a sick child and his mother to hospital.
After Kubrick sold his first short film, the self-financed Day of the Fight, to RKO in 1951 for $4000 (pocketing a $100 profit), the company advanced the 23-year-old filmmaker money to make a documentary short for their Pathe Screenliner series. Flying Padre was the result.
In an interview in 1969, Kubrick referred to Flying Padre as "silly".