When I was a child I can remember my Father contributing on a regular basis to Boy's Town. It was his favorite charity though he never told us why. Years later when I attended Creighton University in Omaha I had many occasion to visit the campus of this wondrous facility, just for a quiet green place to study. Of course we all saw the movie with Spencer Tracy & Mickey Rooney which only added to the greatness of this place.
Just this past March Father Flanagan’s process for canonization was opened.
SERVANT of GOD EDWARD JOSEPH FLANAGAN was born in 1886 at Leabeg, County Roscommon, Village of Ballymoe, Ireland. It is believed that he was born prematurely, leading to his family's fear that he would not survive. Perhaps due to his condition at birth, Edward was frail and often struggled with illnesses throughout his entire life. In spite of this he had great determination to accomplish the Lord’s will. In a letter to a friend he wrote, "You also may not know that I was the little shepherd boy who took care of the cattle and sheep. That seemed to be my job as I was the delicate member of the family and good for nothing else, and with probably a poorer brain than most of the other members of the family." The family had a farm and sometimes he and his father would pray the Rosary in the rain and rosaries in hand go together looking for lost sheep.
He was clearly formed for his life long mission work during the days of his youth in Ireland. "The old-fashioned home with fireside companionship, its religious devotion and its closely-knit family ties is my idea of what a home should be. My Father would tell me many stories that were interesting to a child -stories of adventure, or the struggle of the Irish people for independence. It was from him I learned the great science of life and heard examples from the lives of saints, scholars and patriots. It was from his life I first learned the fundamental rule of life of the great Saint Benedict, 'pray and work.'"
He immigrated to America in 1904, with his sister Nellie staying with his mother's relatives until he began his studies at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland. He then entered Dunwoodie Seminary in Yonkers for the Archdiocese of New York. In the first year of his studies he contracted double pneumonia and because of his weak lungs was unable to fully recover. He had to leave the seminary for at least a year. He moved to Omaha, in 1907, to live with his brother, Father Patrick Flanagan, with Nellie nursing him back to health.
After studies and many set-backs, he was ordained in 1912. His first assignment was in O’Neill, Nebraska, where his brother had spent his first parish assignment after his arrival in Omaha in 1904. Six months later, in Holy Week Father Edward was transferred to St. Patrick’s Church in Omaha to assist the ailing pastor. On Easter Sunday, a violent tornado struck Omaha, destroying one third of the city and killing 155 leaving hundreds homeless, and many without work.
For the next two years, Fr. Flanagan ministered to the needs of those affected by the tornado, later founding a shelter for homeless men. During the first Great War he decided to make a study of the juvenile justice system. In the summer of 1917, he took seven boys from the courts, met with them three times a week establishing a routine for them. He now knew the course his life would take and with the permission of the Bishop Jeremiah Harty, moved five boys, ages eight to ten, into his first home. 6 months later he had 32 boys in a larger building and by Christmas, there were over 100 boys in the home and soon the capacity of 150 boys was reached. With help from the Mother-Superior of the Notre Dame Sisters, and many well-trained teachers, he began a school for the boys. In 1921, he received the deed to Overlook Farm, constructed five buildings for his boys, and was able to move them to their new home. Overlook Farm is now the incorporated Village of Boys Town.
While obviously quite busy with his life Father was a man of prayer and encouraged every boy to pray; his famous quote is, "Every boy should pray; how he prays is up to him."
More than 6,000 youth were under his direct care during his lifetime. U.S. Presidents and other world leaders sought his counsel. He advised, was studied and inspired other clergy and youth care workers throughout the world. Eighty-nine programs across the globe are directly inspired by his example. Boys Town is currently a national leader in caring for children and families through its treatment for behavioral, emotional and physical problems.
|"He ain't heavy, Father, he's m' brother!"|
He prophesied before his passing in Berlin in 1948, "That the work will continue you see, whether I'm there or not, because it's God’s work, not mine." He died at the age of 61 of a heart attack.
Father Flanagan believed that every child could be a productive citizen if given love, a home, an education and a trade, and accepted boys of every race and creed. He is quoted as saying, “There are no bad boys. There is only bad environment, bad training, bad example, bad thinking.”