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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 Honora “Nano” Nagle, Sister John of God

honora-nano-nagleHonora “Nano” Nagle, Sister John of God and founder of the Sisters of the Presentation the Blessed Virgin Mary, dies of tuberculosis on April 26, 1784. Her recognition as one of the greatest women of Ireland derives from dedication to the poor and oppressed. Her mission between the cutting edge of the gospel and the miseries of her day inspires the Presentation Sisters to minister in joyful service, responding to current needs throughout the world in faithfulness to the gospel.

Born to a wealthy family in Ballygriffin, just north of Killavullen, County Cork in 1718, Nagle’s parents send her to France to be educated since strict penal laws bar Catholic children from attending school in Ireland. She returns to Ireland after her father’s death in 1746. Her mother dies soon afterwards. Prayer and reflection lead Nagle back to France to become a sister.

Even as she begins her new life as a sister, Nagle’s thoughts often return to the children of the poor families back in Ireland.

At age 32, Nagle leaves the convent in France and returns to Ireland, where she secretly gathers the children of the poor and teaches them catechism, reading, writing and mathematics. As she spends her days with the children, they tell her of their sick friends or family members. She begins to visit the sick and the elderly after school, bringing them food, medicine and comfort.

Nagle often makes visits late into the night, carrying her lamp among the alleyways. Before long, she becomes known as the Lady of the Lantern.

Nagle decides to open a convent where women can share the mission of Jesus through prayer, teaching and care for the sick and needy. She and three companions open the first Presentation Convent on Cove Lane (now Douglas Street) in Cork, County Cork on Christmas Day in 1775. There she receives the habit on June 29, 1776, taking the name of Mother Mary of St. John of God. The sisters make their first annual vows on June 24, 1777.

Honora “Nano” Nagle dies from tuberculosis at the age of 65 on April 26, 1784. She leaves her compelling vision of service to a growing community of Presentation Sisters. Her final words are emblematic of her timeless legacy, and they remain a guiding principle for the Sisters: “Love one another as you have hitherto done.”

Nagle is recognized as a woman of faith, hope and heroic virtue by the Roman Catholic Church and is declared Venerable on October 31, 2013 by Pope Francis. Once evidence of an authentic miracle is attributed to her intercession with God, she acquires the title Blessed. Another miracle initiates canonization and public recognition of Nagle as a Saint.