Monsignor Edward Joseph Flanagan
Monsignor Edward Joseph Flanagan (July 13, 1886 in Ballymoe, County Roscommon, Ireland; He was the founder of what is arguably the most famous orphanage—Boys Town. The campus is not just an orphanage, but now a center for troubled youth.
Father Flanagan was born in the townland of Leabeg, County Roscommon, near the village of Ballymoe, County Galway, Ireland. His parents were John (a herdsman) and Honoria Flanagan. He attended Summerhill College, Sligo, Ireland. He emigrated to the USA in 1904, and became a U.S. citizen in 1919. He attended Mount St. Mary's University in Emmitsburg, Maryland, where in 1906 he received a bachelor of arts degree and a master of arts degree in 1908. Father Flanagan studied at St. Joseph's Seminary in Dunwoodie, New York. He continued his studies in Italy and at the University of Innsbruck in Austria, where he was ordained a priest in 1912. His first parish was in O'Neill, Nebraska, where from 1912 he served as an assistant pastor at St. Patrick's Catholic Church. He then moved to Omaha, to serve as an assistant pastor at St. Patrick's Church and later at St. Philomena's Church.
In 1917, he founded a home for homeless boys in Omaha. Bishop Jeremiah James Harty of the Diocese of Omaha had misgivings, but endorsed Father Flanagan's experiment. Because the downtown facilities were inadequate, Flanagan established Boys Town, ten miles west of Omaha, in 1921. Under Father 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 the ages of 10 and 16 could receive an education and learn a trade.
A 1938 film starring Spencer Tracy, Boys Town, was based on the life of Father Flanagan, and Tracy won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance. Mickey Rooney also starred as one of the residents. Spencer Tracy spent his entire Oscar acceptance speech talking about Father Flanagan. "If you have seen him through me, then I thank you." An overzealous MGM publicity representative announced that Tracy was donating his Oscar to Flanagan without confirming it with Tracy. Tracy's response was: "I earned the...thing. I want it." The Academy hastily struck another inscription, Tracy kept his statuette, and Boys Town got one, too. It read: "To Father Flanagan, whose great humanity, kindly simplicity, and inspiring courage were strong enough to shine through my humble effort. Spencer Tracy."
Some scenes from the movie were filmed at Boys Town, and Father Flanagan reviewed the script prior to the filming. A sequel also starring Tracy, Men of Boys Town, was released in 1941.
Father Flanagan received many awards for his work with the delinquent and homeless boys. Pope Pius XI named him a Domestic Prelate with the title Right Reverend monsignor in 1937. He served on several committees and boards dealing with the welfare of children and was the author of articles on child welfare. Internationally known, Father Flanagan traveled to Japan and Korea in 1947 to study child welfare problems. He made a similar trip to Austria and Germany and, while in Germany, he died on May 15, 1948, of a heart attack. He was buried in the Dowd Chapel at Boys Town.
In 1946 Fr. Flanagan visited Ireland and receives a special presentation from the members of Roscommon County Council at a meeting in Castlerea on 24th June 1946. A copy of this presentation is on the website. Contact was established between the Ballymoe Boystown association and Boys Town National Alumni Association and in 2001 the Alumni Association donated a life-size bronze Statue of Fr. Flanagan to the Ballymoe Community. A civic reception was held in Ballymoe on May 25th 2001 for representatives of the Boystown Alumni. The statue of Fr. Flanagan was unveiled on Saturday 5th October 2001, an event which was attended by a large delegation of American dignitaries and Boystown Alumni. The Ballymoe Boys Town Association at the unveiling date were
President; Finbarr McNamara
Vice Chairperson; Tom Flynn
Chairperson; John Martin Griffin
Secretary; Fr. Alan Conway
Assistant Secretary; Ms. Fidelma Croghan
Treasurer; Ms. Assumpta Ward
Assistant Treasurer; Ann Gunning
The official twinning agreement was signed in Boys Town, Omaha, Nebraska on 5th October 2002 and was signed jointly by the Mayors of both Counties Galway and Roscommon. Since the formal twinning there have been many visits between the two communities including a visit to Ballymoe by film star Mickey Rooney who starred in the Boys Town Film. The most recent visit by the Alumni to Ballymoe was in 2012 to promote the Fr. Flanagan cause for canonization