On this day: Fr. Flanagan

by Gerelyn Hollingsworth

View Author Profile

Join the Conversation

Send your thoughts to Letters to the Editor. Learn more

On this day, 125 years ago, Edward Joseph Flanagan was born in County Roscommon, Ireland.

"In 1904, he set sail for the United States. Following his ordination in 1912, Father Flanagan was assigned to the Diocese of Omaha. His first parish assignment was Saint Patrick’s in O’Neill, Nebraska. In March 1913, he was appointed Assistant Pastor to Saint Patrick Catholic Church in Omaha.

"On December 12, 1917, Father Flanagan opened his first Boys’ Home in a run-down Victorian mansion in downtown Omaha. In 1921, the Boys’ Home moved to Overlook Farm, its present location near 139th and West Dodge Road. Father Flanagan and Boys Town became internationally known with the help of the 1938 movie, 'Boys Town.' He became an acknowledged expert in the field of child care, and toured the United States discussing his views on juvenile delinquency."

--"Father Edward J. Flanagan", Boys Town.

In "Boys Town Founder Fr. Flanagan Warned Irish Church About Abuse in 1940s," by John Fay, Irish Central, October 5, 2010, we find this distressing information:

"When World War II ended in 1945, President Harry S. Truman asked Fr. Flanagan to tour Asia and Europe, to see what could be done for the homeless and neglected children in those regions.

"Fr. Flanagan decided to return to the land of his birth in 1946 to visit his family, and also to visit the 'so-called training schools' run by the Christian Brothers to see if they were 'a success or failure.'"

"But Fr. Flanagan was unhappy with what he found in Ireland. He was dismayed at the state of Ireland's reform schools and blasted them as 'a scandal, un-Christlike, and wrong.' And he said the Christian Brothers, founded by Edmund Rice, had lost its way.

"Speaking to a large audience at a public lecture in Cork’s Savoy Cinema he said, 'You are the people who permit your children and the children of your communities to go into these institutions of punishment. You can do something about it.' He called Ireland’s penal institutions 'a disgrace to the nation,' and later said 'I do not believe that a child can be reformed by lock and key and bars, or that fear can ever develop a child’s character.'

"However, his words fell on stony ground. He wasn't simply ignored. He was taken to pieces by the Irish establishment. The then-Minister for Justice Gerald Boland said in the Dáil that he was 'not disposed to take any notice of what Monsignor Flanagan said while he was in this country, because his statements were so exaggerated that I did not think people would attach any importance to them.'”

Click here for a YouTube about Boys Town.

Fr. Flanagan died in Berlin on May 14, 1948. See "Boys Town Buries Father Flanagan", Life, May 31, 1948. Notice the reverent faces on the boys and the rosaries in their hands.

Kenneth B. Kidd includes an interesting analysis of "Father Flanagan's Boys Town" in Making American Boys: Boyology and the Feral Tale, University of Minnesota Press, 2004, pages 111-134.

"Flanagan is conspicuously absent from the histories of American Catholicism that I surveyed, even though many are organized around bishops and important priests. . . .In most accounts of his life and work, the fact that he is a Catholic priest seems almost beside the point, . . ." Page 124.

Father Flanagan of Boys Town, by Fulton Oursler and Will Oursler, Doubleday, 1949, the biography Kidd refers to, has no Look Inside feature at Amazon or Google books, but it is easily found in libraries and at AbeBooks.

TCM will show "Boys Town" (1938) on September 14, 2011 @ 4:15 AM (EST). Click Remind Me, and they will do so. Spencer Tracy won the Academy Award for his role as Father Flanagan. Mickey Rooney played Whitey Marsh.

Latest News


1x per dayDaily Newsletters
1x per weekWeekly Newsletters
2x WeeklyBiweekly Newsletters