Essays and Such

Irish Cultural Society

of San Antonio Texas


Promoting Awareness of Irish Culture

Fr Flanagan's Boy's town
by Brittany Winters, 25 Mar 2014
City of Little Men: Fr Flanagan's Legacy

When beginning my research for this essay I was searching for someone 
whose legacy and values continued to touch the lives of people well beyond 
their lifetime. I wanted to write about someone with a universal and timeless 
mission that was still prevalent in our current time. Each of these rare 
qualities could be easily found in Father Edward Joseph Flanagan: Catholic 
Priest, Founder of Boys Town, and advocate for humanity.

	Father Flanagan was born on July 13th, 1886 in the Village of 
Ballymoe, Ireland. As a member of a close-knit family with eleven children, he 
experienced from an early age the positive impact of a loving family 
environment. Although he was often plagued by illness, with the support of his 
family he was continuously optimistic and determined to succeed, especially 
in his dream (since the age of six) of becoming a Priest. After immigrating to 
America he graduated from Mount St. Mary's College and attended three 
different seminary schools, the first two of which he had to leave due to 
prolonged illnesses and recoveries. Having finally completed his seminary 
studies at Royal Imperial Leopold Francis University in Innsbruck, Austria, he 
was ordained into the priesthood on July 26th, 1912.

	After his Ordination, Father Flanagan returned to America and 
came to work at St. Patrick's Church in Omaha, Nebraska. However, only a 
few days after his arrival a deadly tornado destroyed a third of the city and 
left 155 people dead, and hundreds more homeless or out of work. Father 
Flanagan immediately took action, first to arrange decent burials for the dead 
and then to provide aid to those left behind. He continued this work for two 
years before changing his focus to the many migrant workers that passed 
through the area on a regular basis. He found them warm, dry places to 
sleep and even created "The Workingman's Hotel" to house over a thousand 
men during the winter. Over time, Father Flanagan realized that many of the 
homeless men that also came to stay there had come from broken and 
neglectful families which led him to his true mission: helping children.

	To begin his mission, Father Flanagan borrowed $90 to pay the 
rent on a boarding house that became Father Flanagan's Home for Boys 
in December of 1917. The first residents of this new home were five young 
boys assigned to Father Flanagan by the court. Father Flanagan's home 
was meant to take in the neediest children, even those who were in prison 
for serious crimes, and give them a fresh start with a stable environment in 
which to grow and learn. By spring there were 100 boys living in the home - 
which was open to all races and religions - and was at full capacity of 150 
by the next Christmas. As his mission grew. Father Flanagan purchased 
Overlook Farm which would become the site of the home known as Boys 

	Boys Town was and continues to be a very special kind of 
reformatory community. One of Father Flanagan's most famous quotes is 
"there are no bad boys. There is only bad environment, bad training, bad 
example, bad thinking". He believed that every young person has the ability 
and inclination to become a good, upstanding citizen if given the correct 
upbringing of guidance and faith. The Boys Town method of reforming young 
troublemakers emphasizes education, faith and citizenship. The boys all 
attend church and are taught to pray to nurture their souls and provide healing, 
but are allowed to choose their own form of worship. They also have the 
opportunity to partake in various vocational schools to prepare them for work 
outside of Boys Town. Along with this they are prepared for the real world 
through participation in the child-run local government. The boys elect their 
own mayor, judge and city officials as well as run their own post office. 
Elections are semi-annual and are preceded by political rallies and 
campaigns by those who are running. Father Flanagan himself said "never 
have I seen voters take more seriously their privilege and responsibility of 
voting than do the citizens of Boys Town".

	Father Flanagan was one of the greatest champions for children's 
rights of all time. He believed that "understanding, not punishment is the 
solution to what is commonly called 'juvenile delinquency'". Throughout his 
years, he fought to close reformatories and juvenile facilities that treated 
children like prisoners while advocating laws to prevent the exploitation of 
child labor. He was never afraid of expressing his opinions in news articles, 
radio interviews, discussions with local and national leaders, and his own 
numerous writings which included many books on child-rearing. He wrote, 
"Often it has been said that youth is the nation's greatest asset. But it 
is more than that - it is the world's greatest asset. More than that, it is 
perhaps the world's only hope." Over the course of his life he traveled to 
31 states and twelve countries in Europe, including his native country of 
Ireland, and Asia to spread his mission and set up youth programs similar 
to that of Boys Town.

	Father Flanagan's notoriety eventually led to his invitation by the 
War Department to help plan the care of thousands of children that were 
orphaned in the aftermath of World War II. He traveled throughout both Japan 
(where he met General Douglas MacArthur) and Germany to assess the situations
and lay the groundwork for the future care of the children. After making the 
long journey to Berlin, Germany, Father Flanagan suffered a heart attack and 
died on May 15th, 1948 at the age of 61. After two funeral masses on the Boys 
Town campus his body was entombed at Boys Town. That next June, President 
Truman visited Boys Town to lay a wreath of flowers on Father Flanagan's tomb.

	What began as a humble boarding house for five troubled boys 
has become a world renowned child care program which is now open to 
both boys and girls with eleven branch locations, a national training center, 
and a national hotline as well as two hospitals; all of which serve over 2 
million children per year. In addition, Boys Town inspired eighty-nine 
similar programs throughout the world. Father Flanagan's simple dream 
of providing a better place for children to grow into great adults has 
touched the lives of millions across the globe and his amazing work was 
even made into the Oscar-winning motion picture "Boys Town" starring 
Spencer Tracy as Father Flanagan in 1938. Although it has been nearly 
a century since his mission began, Father Flanagan's influence and 
contributions continue to have lasting impacts on humanity. As he 
said before his death in Berlin, "The work will continue, you see, 
whether I am there or not, because it is God's work, not mine."

A City of Little Men: Father Flanagan's Legacy Information and Quotes 
"Father Flanagan League :: Father Flanagan Biography." 
Father Flanagan League:: Father Flanagan Biography. N.p., n.d. 
Web. 25 Mar. 2014.
Lonnborg, Barbara, and Thomas J. Lynch. Father Flanagan's Legacy: 
Hope and Healing for Children. Boys Town, NE: Boys Town, 2003. Print.
"Father Edward J. Flanagan." Boys Town. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Mar. 2014.
Bradley, Ann Kathleen. "Chapter 7: Toward Integration." History of the 
Irish in America. Secaucus, NJ: Chartwell, 1986. N. pag. Print10:47 PM 12/5/2016