… they are all God’s children. They are my brothers. I must protect them to the best of my ability

150701 Fr Flanagan

Soon after his ordination , he boarded for New York, and from there continued on to Omaha. On the Easter of 1913, a violent tornado struck Omaha, destroying 1/3 of the city. The next morning, Father Edward Flanagan was out with mortician Leo Hoffman picking up the bodies of the dead and making arrangements for their decent burial. The tornado left 155 people killed, hundreds homeless, and fathers without work.

For the next 2 years, Fr. Edward ministered to the needs of those affected by the tornado, In 1915, his outreach continued in a new area: finding shelter and food for many seasonal workers who became stranded without work due to the drought. As the cold winter approached, Father Edward found an old garage on a side street of the city, spread straw on the floor and gave the men he found sleeping in coal bunkers next to track, a warmer place to stay. He then received permission to open a shelter for the men, and moved in 57 of them. Spring 1916 , when the men left for available farm labor, Father Edward found a larger place—an old boarding house. He called it “The Workingmen’s Hotel” where that winter he sheltered up to 1000 men.

With the Declaration of War in April 1917, the Workingmen’s Hotel emptied as many homeless and jobless men enlisted. However, word of the hobo paradise in the middle of Omaha spread and soon Father Edward’s shelter was filled with a different kind of occupant. As he listened to the stories of these drifters, he realized the story was always the same—none of them had come from a loving and caring family, all were victims of parental neglect or broken homes, or homes where a parent had died or deserted.

At this time he decided to make an exhaustive study of the juvenile justice system and also immersed himself in studying the social theories and insights of his time. In summer 1917, he took 7 boys from the courts, met with them 3 times a week and established a healthy routine for them. By November, he knew his purpose, and with the permission of Omaha Diocesan Bishop, he moved 5 boys, ages 8 to 10, into his first home for boys in the old Byron Reed Building. He quickly outgrew that building. By Christmas, there were over 100 boys in the Home and soon the capacity of 150 boys was reached. With help from the of the Notre Dame Sisters, and an army of well-trained teachers, he put his school program on a solid footing so that in the fall each boy could begin classes on his level.

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.

In addition to the daily Divine Office, Father Flanagan had a particular devotion to Mary and prayed the Rosary everyday. No one could ever seem to arrive in the morning at the chapel before he did. He encouraged every boy to pray; his famous quote is, “Every boy should pray; how he prays is up to him.”

His Mission and Legacy

The priest broke with the segregationist practices of his time, serving all boys regardless of their race and religion. After Boys Town moved from Omaha, the local branch of the Ku Klux Klan threatened to burn Boys Town to the ground because of it care for black children and Jews. Father Flanagan’s response to racist criticism was to ask what color a person’s soul was.

Critics of his integrationist policy also included Catholic and Protestant clergy, as well as judges. Although the priest’s organization was always in debt, he turned down a wealthy Californian’s offer of $ 1 million if he turned Boys Town into a Catholic-only group. “He was decades ahead of the civil rights movement in the US in what he was doing,” said Steven Wolf, president of the Father Flanagan League Society of Devotion and vice-postulator of his cause.

As the nations of Europe and Asia began to rebuild following the devastation of World War II, they were faced with large numbers of homeless and neglected children. The American government turned to Father Flanagan and requested he tour Asia and report on the conditions of the children and how they could be helped.

In 1946, Father Flanagan visited his beloved Ireland for the last time. He toured prisons, industrial schools for youth and youth care facilities operated by the Christian Brothers. He openly condemned the youth care institutions he observed as a “disgrace to the nation.”  He offered Ireland a solution and implored his native countrymen to adopt it. For this he was publicly ridiculed and ostracized by the national government and officials of the Christian Brothers. It was among Father Flanagan’s dying wishes that his mission work would be brought to Ireland.

In 1947, Father Flanagan traveled throughout Japan, Korea and the Philippines for 2 months, meeting with hundreds of government officials, visiting children’s homes and evaluating conditions. In July, he presented his report, “Children of Defeat,” to President Harry Truman at a White House meeting, and was soon asked to begin a similar tour of Europe.

Father Flanagan accepted the assignment even though he was still exhausted from his trip to Asia. He commented to a few close companions that he believed if he went on this new mission, he would not live to see his beloved Boys Town again. On March 5, 1948, he sailed from New York to Southampton, England, and then flew to Austria.

His travels in Europe were made up of long days, with meetings lasting late into the evening. The strain showed when Father Flanagan collapsed after saying Easter Mass in Vienna, but he refused to cut back on his schedule.

Before retiring for the night on May 14th in Berlin, Father Flanagan discussed with a colleague the thoughts he planned to share the following morning with General Lucius D. Clay, the military governor of Germany.

During the night, Father Flanagan began to complain of chest pains and was rushed to the 279th Station Military Hospital, where he passed away at 2 a.m., after receiving the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.

Father Flanagan’s mission work took him to 31 states and to 12 countries in Asia and in Europe. 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. 89 programs across the globe are directly inspired by his example.

He prophesized before his passing in Berlin, Germany on May 15, 1948, “That the work will continue you see, whether I’m there or not, because it’s God’s work, not mine.” Today his mission has grown to Boys Town program locations in 10 states and Washington D. C., 2 hospitals (one on the main campus), a national training center and national hotline. Today, Boys Town provides direct and indirect care to 1.4 million youth and families annually.

http://www.fatherflanagan.org/biography.phphttp://blog.boystown.org/day-father-flanagan-died/;  http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/father-flanagan-founded-boys-town-will-he-be-recognized-as-a-saint-17534/

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