Monday, July 13, 2009
Saturday afternoon all 175 of the Seminarians in the summer program visited Boystown just west of the city. Boys town was founded in 1917 by Father Edward Flanagan an Irish Catholic priest who served in Omaha. Father Flanagan noticed large numbers of homeless boys in the city and became determined to help educate and save them. His belief was simple, one of the best ways to combat homelessness in adults is to prevent it in children, and to educate them so that they have an opportunity in life. Father Flanagan quickly went to work with the help of many others at creating a home for homeless boys. His small idea quickly grew until he found himself overrun with needy children.
Father Flanagan gave his all to the kids and sacrificed immensely. He focused on empowering children, during a time in which children were left to wander the streets, locked up in prisons and brutal "reform schools." He encouraged all kids in music and the arts, as well as traditional academics and sports.
Father eventually purchased a huge farm outside the city and created Boystown. A town run by and for homeless children. His success was later featured in a 1938 film featuring Spencer Tracey and Mickey Rooney.
Father Flanagan believed there was no such thing as a bad child, or a boy who wanted to be bad. His small town eventually grew to house hundreds of children. The boys elected a mayor, city council and had their own judges! His astonishing belief in children, was revolutionary and still is lightyears ahead of the education system today. In one famous case he used the national airways to lobby the governor of Missouri for the transfer of two imprisoned boys ages 7 & 9. They were locked up in a hard prison for stealing! Father Flanagan's Boystown had no walls, kids were free to leave at any time. However, very few did because they knew it was a city built on love.
Interestingly enough Father Flanagan even created quite a stir when he visited Ireland in the forties. He openly and passionately denounced the Irish Industrial School System for its abuse of children. The industrial schools were Irish reform schools where abuse was rampant (by the government and clergy). He was so vocal in decrying what was happening to children that he he was denounced by the government. Just last month the Irish government released a report on the abuse of children in schools during this time period. Remarkably they are saying today what Father Flanagan said 60 years ago. He blew the whistle, no body listened. Father Flanagan was unafraid to speak the truth!
On May 15th, 1948 while on a trip to Germany at the request of President Truman, Father Flanagan collapsed from exhaustion and took ill. The bells tolled at Boys Town and all of the boys flocked to the chapel to pray for his recovery. A few hours later he died, and the world stopped to remember a man of hope and faith.
Our tour of Boystown was wonderful and it really stirred an interest in learning more about Father Flanagan. He was a pioneer in education, a man of faith and Irish- he shared all of my loves! Tomorrow I am going to the library first thing to check out his book, and later on to the chapel he built to pray.......to be continued
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