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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of Fr. Edward J. Flanagan, Founder of Boys Town

Edward Joseph Flanagan, Irish-born priest of the Catholic Church in the United States, dies in Berlin, Germany on May 15, 1948. He founds the orphanage known as Boys Town located in Boys Town, Douglas County, Nebraska, which now also serves as a center for troubled youth.

Flanagan is born to John and Honoria Flanagan in the townland of Leabeg, County Roscommon, near the village of Ballymoe, County Galway, on July 13, 1886. He attends Summerhill College, Sligo.

In 1904, Flanagan emigrates to the United States and becomes a US citizen in 1919. He attends Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland, where he receives a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1906 and a Master of Arts degree in 1908. He studies at Saint Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie, Yonkers, New York. He continues his studies in Italy and at the University of Innsbruck in Austria where he is ordained a priest on July 26, 1912. His first parish is in O’Neill, Nebraska, where from 1912 he serves as an assistant pastor at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church. He then moves to Omaha, Nebraska, to serve as an assistant pastor at St. Patrick’s Church and later at St. Philomena’s Church.

In 1917, Flanagan founds a home for homeless boys in Omaha. Bishop Jeremiah James Harty of the Diocese of Omaha has misgivings, but endorses Flanagan’s experiment. Because the downtown facilities are inadequate, he establishes Boys Town, ten miles west of Omaha in 1921. Under his direction, Boys Town grows to be a large community with its own boy-mayor, schools, chapel, post office, cottages, gymnasium, and other facilities where boys between the ages of 10 and 16 can receive an education and learn a trade.

Boys Town, a 1938 film starring Spencer Tracy based on Flanagan’s life, wins Tracy an Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance. Mickey Rooney also stars as one of the residents. Tracy spends his entire Oscar acceptance speech talking about Flanagan. Without confirming it with Tracy, an overzealous MGM publicity representative announces incorrectly that Tracy is donating his Oscar to Flanagan. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hastily strikes another inscription so Tracy keeps his statuette and Boys Town gets one as well. A sequel also starring Tracy and Rooney, Men of Boys Town, is released in 1941.

Flanagan himself appears in a separate 1938 MGM short, The City of Little Men, promoting Boys Town and giving a tour of its facilities. The actor Stephen McNally plays Flanagan in a 1957 episode of the ABC religion anthology series, Crossroads.

Flanagan receives many awards for his work with the delinquent and homeless boys. Pope Pius XI names him a Domestic Prelate with the title Right Reverend Monsignor in 1937. He serves on several committees and boards dealing with the welfare of children and is the author of articles on child welfare. Internationally known, he travels to the Republic of Ireland in 1946, where he is appalled by the children’s institutions there, calling them “a national disgrace.” When his observations are published after returning to Omaha, instead of improving the horrid conditions, vicious attacks are leveled against him in the Irish print media and the Oireachtas. He is invited by General Douglas MacArthur to Japan and Korea in 1947 to advise on child welfare, as well as to Austria and Germany in 1948. While in Germany, he dies of a heart attack on May 15, 1948. He is interred at Dowd Memorial Chapel of the Immaculate Conception Parish in Boys Town, Nebraska.

In 1986, the United States Postal Service issues a 4¢ Great Americans series postage stamp honoring Flanagan. He is a member of the Nebraska Hall of Fame.

On February 25, 2012, the Catholic Archdiocese of Omaha, Nebraska opens the canonization process of Flanagan. At a March 17, 2012 prayer service at Boys Town’s Immaculate Conception Church, he is given the title “Servant of God,” the first of three titles bestowed before canonization as a Catholic saint. The investigation is completed in June 2015 and the results forwarded to the Vatican. If the Vatican approves the local findings, Flanagan will be declared venerable. The next steps will be beatification and canonization.

There is a portrait statue dedicated to Fr. Edward J. Flanagan in Ballymoe, County Galway.


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Death of Nellie Cashman, Philanthropist & Gold Prospector

nellie-cashmanNellie Cashman, nurse, restaurateur, businesswoman, Roman Catholic philanthropist in Arizona, and gold prospector in Alaska, dies on January 4, 1925, in Sisters of St. Anne hospital, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.

Cashman is born in Midleton, County Cork, one of two daughters of Patrick and Frances “Fanny” (Cronin) Cashman. Along with her sister, she is brought to the United States around 1850 by her mother, first settling in Boston. As an adolescent, she works as a bellhop in a Boston hotel. In 1865 she and her family migrate to San Francisco, California.

Of the thousands lured by the gold rush fever of the 19th century, few had the staying power or generous spirit of Cashman. She follows gold miners into British Columbia, where, during the early 1870s, she operates a boarding house while learning elementary mining techniques and geology. For the next 50 years, the precious metal leads her to Arizona, Nevada, Mexico, the Canadian Yukon, and north of the Arctic Circle in Alaska. In addition to successfully prospecting and running mines, one time owning 11 mines in the Koyukuk District of Alaska, she operates boarding houses, restaurants, and supply depots.

The quality that truly establishes Cashman’s place in mining lore is her charity, which earns her the titles “Angel of Tombstone” and “Saint of the Sourdoughs” while sometimes obscuring her career as a successful miner. As early as 1874, while visiting Victoria, she leads a dangerous rescue effort to free a group of miners trapped by a severe winter storm. Later, during the glory days of Tombstone, Arizona, she helps establish the town’s first hospital and Sacred Heart Church, its first Roman Catholic church. Although she is known to be tough and aggressive in defending her claims, she is also big-hearted. Upon the deaths of her sister and brother-in-law, she takes in her nieces and nephews and raises them as her own.

Around 1889, Cashman is active in the gold camp at Harqua Hala, Arizona, and comes close to marrying Mike Sullivan, one of the original discoverers of gold in that area. Along with mining, she contributes a number of excellent articles to Tucson‘s Arizona Daily Star, in which she discusses history, techniques, types of claims, and personalities in the field.

Cashman spends the last 20 years of her life on Nolan Creek, in the Koyukuk River Basin of Alaska, then the farthest north of any mining camp in the world. She is among about eight women who join a group of approximately 200 miners to brave the harsh environment and isolation in hopes of striking the “big bonanza.” Once a year, she leaves for supplies and equipment, traveling hundreds of miles to Fairbanks, by sled, boat, or wagon. Her spirit of adventure apparently never dies. In 1921, during one of her trips to the outside, she is interviewed for Sunset, a California publication. Then 76, Cashman tells the writer that, although she loves Alaska, she is not so tied to it that she would not pull up stakes if something turned up elsewhere.

Nellie Cashman dies on January 4, 1925, in Sisters of St. Anne hospital in Victoria, one of the hospitals she had helped fund some 40 years earlier. The United States Postal Service honors her with a stamp on October 18, 1994 as part of its “Legends of the West” series.