Father Edward Flanagan, the founder of the famous Boys Town orphanage, will be declared a “Servant of God” next month as the Archdiocese of Omaha opens his cause for beatification.
“For years many in the Omaha community and beyond have venerated the memory of Fr. Edward Flanagan,” Archbishop George Lucas said Feb. 21. “I am happy that we can begin the process of examining the holiness that was apparent in his life and ministry, to see if he might be canonized.”
The archbishop started the process at the request of the Father Flanagan League Society of Devotion.
The league was formed in 1999 to advocate the opening of the cause for Fr. Flanagan’s canonization and to educate people about his life and his mission as a mentor and protector of youth.
The league’s president, Steven Wolf, said the organization is “humbled and overjoyed” by the archbishop’s acceptance of the petition to examine the priest’s heroic virtue and sanctity.
Fr. Flanagan is most famous for founding Boys Town, an orphanage for boys that grew into a major provider for at-risk children and families.
He was born July 13, 1886 in County Roscommon, Ireland. He traveled to the U.S. in 1904.
He was ordained a priest in 1912 and assigned to what was then the Diocese of Omaha.
After a period of working with homeless men in Omaha, he founded a boarding house for all boys, regardless of their race or religion. He soon moved his work to Overlook Farm on the outskirts of Omaha, where he cared for hundreds of boys.
The home became known as the Village of Boys Town, growing to include a school, dormitories and administration buildings.
The boys elected their own government to run the community, which became an official village in the state of Nebraska in 1936.
One of his famous phrases was “There are no bad boys. There is only bad environment, bad training, bad example, bad thinking.”
The priest rose to national and international prominence for his work. Actor Spencer Tracy won an Oscar for his portrayal of Fr. Flanagan in the 1938 movie “Boys Town.” The actor later donated the award to the priest.
U.S. president Harry Truman asked Fr. Flanagan to travel the world to visit war orphans and to advise government leaders on how to care for displaced children.
He died of a heart attack in Berlin on May 15, 1948.
His remains are interred in Boys Town’s Dowd Memorial Catholic Chapel.
Fr. Steven Boes, national executive director of Boys Town, said the organization is “extremely happy” that its founder is being considered for sainthood.
“Though the process will be investigating proven miracles associated with Fr. Flanagan, we know that miracles occurred every day in his work to heal children in mind, body and spirit. These everyday miracles still occur as Boys Town continues Flanagan’s work by saving children and healing families today,” he said.
Before the cause can open, Archbishop Lucas will post a notice on the doors of Omaha’s St. Cecilia Cathedral on Feb. 27.
The notice will be on display for two weeks to alert the public about the cause and to invite them to share their thoughts with the tribunal in charge of the investigation, archdiocesan chancellor Deacon Tim McNeil said.
The cause will formally open on March 17 with a 9 a.m. prayer service at Boys Town’s Immaculate Conception Church. Fr. Flanagan will receive the official title “Servant of God.”
The local tribunals of religious officials and experts responsible for investigating Fr. Flanagan’s virtues and interviewing witnesses will also be sworn in.
At the conclusion of the archdiocese’s investigation, the cause’s documentation is sent to the Congregation of the Causes of Saints at the Vatican.
The congregation can recommend that Pope Benedict XVI declare Fr. Flanagan to have demonstrated heroic virtue and is worthy to be declared “venerable.”
This action would allow prayer cards and other material to be printed to encourage the faithful to pray for Fr. Flanagan’s intercession and canonization.
If anyone gives credible evidence of a miracle through his intercession, he may be beatified.
An additional miracle is then required for canonization—the declaration by the Church that it is as certain as it can be that he is in heaven.
Wolf said the Father Flanagan League Society of Devotion sees the opening of the cause for beatification “as a response to the Holy Spirit that is moving through an international groundswell of devotion.”
His group estimates that there is devotion to Fr. Flanagan in nine countries and 36 U.S. states.
Deacon McNeil said the canonization of Fr. Flanagan could inspire the more than 230,000 Catholics of northeast Nebraska.
“If he could live a holy and exemplary life in Omaha, why can’t we all?” he asked.