I share an inherited appreciation for Fr. Flanagan thanks to my father. Boys Town and similar organizations were always close to my dad’s heart and among the top of his donation pile, next to our local parish church fund. The reason is that he was sent to spend the last few years of high school at a similar school when his mother and grandparents could no longer afford to support two children in their very small Fackler, Alabama, home.
As I understand it, Dad was the eldest and smart enough to qualify for a full scholarship to the boys home. Thanks to the wonderful example of his step-father, Gene Danz, for whom his mother moved to Los Angeles to marry after her long-estranged husband died, my terrific father went on to eventually convert to the Catholic faith as a college student attending UCLA.
He served in what later became the Air Force during WWII and later, either before or after the war, entered the Franciscan seminary in Santa Barbara for a year or two, thinking he may have a priestly vocation. He didn’t, of course, and that’s sure OK with me! Finishing his college degree in engineering at UC Berkeley, he met mom and the rest is history.
A place of unexpected refuge
That said, dad never forgot his humble roots nor his experience in the Boys Town type home. Much later – many, many years later — we learned that his younger brother envied my dad’s placement. While dad thoroughly enjoyed his time at a Boys Town type home (we don’t know if it was actually Boys Town), he also missed home and family, yet his younger brother and mom had endured near starvation in their hometown, though they never let dad know how bad it was until years later.
I guess the bottom line is to always be grateful for whatever the Good Lord give us!
Given the story of my dad, it is with special appreciation that we share this news of Fr. Flanagan…
Father Edward J. Flanagan
CNA—by Madeleine Teahan—A Catholic priest reputed for rescuing homeless and impoverished children on the streets of Omaha, Nebraska, is expected to soon be declared Venerable by the Vatican, placing him on the path to canonization.
Father Edward J. Flanagan, who died in 1948, was an Irish-born priest whose saintly life has been narrated in a recent documentary, “Heart of a Servant — the Father Flanagan Story.”
In a follow-up interview after the film’s premiere on July 26 in Sligo, Ireland, Bishop Kevin Doran of Elphin, Ireland, told CNA that there is a good reason to hope that Flanagan will soon be declared Venerable by the Vatican.
Bishop Kevin Doran of Ireland
In an email exchange on Sept. 5, he told CNA: “Father Flanagan is recognized as a Servant of God since his case was sent to Rome in 2015. Following the examination of the case by the various commissions involved with the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints, there are grounds for hoping that he will soon be declared Venerable.”
Reflecting on the life of the heroic Catholic priest, Doran told CNA that Flanagan “rescued children from homelessness and poverty in Omaha and provided a place for them that they could call home.”
Doran explained how the children were not only provided with “all the practical and academic skills for daily life but also formed in faith and Christian living.”
He continued: “Father Flanagan is a saint, not just because he did these things but because he was motivated to do so by a deep personal relationship with God.
“Inspired by the same spirit of respect for others as the children of God, he opposed racism and sectarianism, even at great personal risk. He also reached out to refugees and especially children displaced by war. In truth, he ‘laid down his life’ in imitation of the Good Shepherd.”
What is required?
When asked how quickly he thought the case of Flanagan would progress, Doran said these things were hard to predict. He continued: “An authenticated miracle is one of the requirements of beatification. This is taken as evidence that the Spirit of God is truly at work in the life of the one who is proposed for beatification. I am aware that a number of possible miracles have been and are being considered, but the criteria are very specific; generally relation to healing for which there is no medical or scientific explanation. This may take time. It is in the hands of God.”
For what causes would Fr. Flanagan be most remembered?
When asked which causes Flanagan might become patron of should he eventually be canonized, Doran said there were several, in his opinion.
“Father Flanagan could be a patron saint under many headings,” he wrote. “Seminarians: because of the courage and faith he demonstrated in overcoming the obstacles he encountered on the way to priesthood; vulnerable children: because of the huge respect and love he had for children; ecumenism: because of his commitment to receiving any child who came to him, irrespective of religious denomination; migrants: because of his outreach to Japanese migrants interned in the U.S. during WW2; children displaced by war: because of his outreach to children in Japan, the Philippines, and Germany after WW2.”
Fr. Flanagan’s poor health and journey to the U.S.
Flanagan was born in County Galway in 1886 and moved to America in 1904. His journey through seminary was put on hold due to poor health, but he was eventually ordained in 1912.
Flanagan emigrated to the U.S. in 1904. Due to poor health, he was twice forced to postpone his seminary studies before he was eventually ordained in 1912.
Personal Invitation by General Douglas MacArthur
Thanks to his incredible ministry toward young boys of Nebraska, he was invited in 1947 by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who was leading the allied occupation of Japan, to review the child welfare conditions in Japan and Korea. He was also invited to do the same in Austria and Germany the following year.
While in Germany, Flanigan suffered a heart attack and died on May 15, 1948. His body rests at Dowd Memorial Chapel of the Immaculate Conception in Boys Town, Nebraska.
- Saints at Work – Catholic Business Journal
- Sainthood, the Church and the Call to Holiness, by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, Catholic Business Journal
Father Flanagan of Boys Town: A Man of Vision, by Hugh Reilly and Kevin Warneke
- Legacy of Devotion, by Fr. Clifford Stevens — In this quintessential biography of Father Edward J. Flanagan, author Father Clifford Stevens paints an insightful, inspirational and enlightening portrait of the man who founded Boys Town and led a cultural revolution that forever changed the way children were viewed, valued, and cared for in society.