Cleric, Social Reformer. He changed the way the country handled troubled children by substituting education and vocational training in a setting that resembled a small town with self government operated by the boys themselves. Prior to this concept, prison took precedence. Today, with its headquarters on the original site outside Omaha, Nebraska, the organization has sites in some 15 states and the District of Columbia while being copied by countries around the world. Edward Joseph Flanagan was born on Leabeg Farm, located near Ballymoe, Roscommon County, Ireland. He joined the wave of Irish immigrants heading to America at the turn of the eighteen century for economic reasons. Edward had a desire to fulfill a vocation to become a priest. Ill health dogged him at every turn resulting in termination at St. Joseph's Seminary in New York and then Gregorian University in Rome. Finally, perseverance led to enrollment at the University of Innsbruck in Austria with ordination and assignment to the archdiocese of Omaha. Working among the poor of the city, he established and operated a shelter for unemployed men and later, in 1917, founded a home for homeless boys. Because the downtown facility was inadequate, he relocated ten miles west of Omaha, in 1921 on an abandoned farm and it was dubbed Boys Town and incorporated in 1936. Under Flanagan's direction, Boys Town grew to be a large community with its own boy-mayor, schools, chapel, post office, cottages, gymnasium, and other facilities where boys between ages 10 and 16 could receive an education and learn a trade. Epilogue...In 1938, Boys Town gained national recognition when MGM decided to create a movie entitled "Boys Town" while the cast and crew spent days on campus doing actual location shooting. The film has become an American classic. Spencer Tracy received an Oscar for his performance as Father Flanagan while Mickey Rooney was propelled into the national limelight for his portrayal of a troubled youth. Tracy presented the award to the school and it remains to this day in the Chapel. Three other films have been made..."Men of Boys Town," also starring Tracy and Rooney, 1941. "Miracle of the Heart: A Boys Town Story," a television movie starring Art Carney 1986. "The Road Home," with Rooney starring in a cameo role as Father Flanagan, 1996. Father Flanagan received many awards for his work with the homeless and delinquent boys. He served on several committees and boards dealing with the welfare of children, and authored many articles on child welfare. At the conclusion of the war, Father Flanagan traveled to Japan and Korea at the behest of the War Department to study child welfare problems where he met with General Douglas MacArthur then reported directly to President Truman. He made a similar trip to Austria and Germany and while in Berlin, Germany, suffered a heart attack and was gone at age 61. His remains were returned to Nebraska by a military aircraft and following the celebration of two Requiem masses at the Dowd Memorial Chapel of the Immaculate Conception at Boys Town to accommodate the massive numbers of mourners, he was entombed in the chapel. Several weeks later, President Truman visited the campus and during a ceremony lay a wreath on Father Flanagan's tomb which is adjacent to the nave of the church. It is guarded by a wrought iron gate with an inscription in Latin, "All for the Honor and Glory of God." The plot is known as the Father Flanagan Shrine and he is entombed in a bronze casket, its cover has words and pictures describing the priest and his life. He was made a member of the Nebraska Hall of Fame in 1965. On July 14, 1986, he was accorded the ultimate commemorative honor when the U.S. Postal Service held a first day of issue ceremony for its new four-cent definitive stamp honoring Farther Flanagan at Boys Town, 100 years after his birth in Ireland. The priest had a hand in creating the Two Brothers statue in 1941 which illustrates boys helping each other after seeing a newspaper photograph of home resident Howard Loomis in the act of conveying fellow student Jim Edwards on his back. The original statue done in soft sandstone with its poignant wording, "He ain't heavy, Father...he's m' brother" became the facility symbol and is today housed at Boys Town. In October 2001, two identical life-size bronze statues of Father Flanagan were created by sculptor Fred Hoppe. One was erected at Boys Town and the second was placed in Ballymore, Ireland, the birthplace of the reformer priest.
Bio by: Donald Greyfield