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Father Flanagan

​​​​​“The work will continue, you see, whether I am there or not, because it is God’s work, not mine.”

“Often it has been said that youth is the nation’s greatest asset. But it is more than that – it is the world’s greatest asset. More than that, it is perhaps the world’s only hope.”

Boys Town founder Father Edward J. Flanagan was a social reformer and a true visionary whose impact on child and family care – yesterday, today and for the future – is far-reaching and immeasurable.

Father Flanagan fought for causes that were not popular in his day, but which are now some of our most crucial social issues. His ideas for caring for children and improving their lives were so far ahead of their time that they sparked a revolution that lives on today in Boys Town’s modern-day mission, more than 90 years later.

The tall Irish priest believed shaping children’s behaviors and ideals at a young age was the only way to guide them toward productive adult lives. His pioneering efforts to save children from neglect, abuse, poverty, illiteracy and lawlessness are as relevant today as they were when he first began building the community tens of thousands of boys and girls have called “home.”

Father Flanagan passionately advocated for social issues few dared to broach in his day. The nature of his legacy is timeless, and many principles and practices in place today had their origins in his vision.

He believed that children had rights and should be protected. These rights and this protection covered everything from basic necessities like nutritious food, clean clothes and a bed to sleep in to child labor laws that prohibited employers from forcing children to work in dangerous conditions for unfair pay. Father Flanagan also sought to close reformatories and other juvenile facilities where children were abused and literally held prisoner.

Father FlanaganAt Boys Town, he was a champion for all children, accepting boys regardless of their race, creed or cultural background. He offered a new start in life to every child, and he went to great lengths to seek out and bring in the neediest and the most helpless, even boys who were in prison for serious crimes. Today’s Boys Town continues to serve girls and boys of many races, creeds, cultures and socio-economic backgrounds.

In the 1940s, Father Flanagan began moving his boys from Boys Town dormitories into smaller cottages to create more of a family-style atmosphere. This was the forerunner of the Boys Town modern-day residential program that effectively helps boys and girls learn new skills for success. Today, children live in 70 Family Homes in the Village of Boys Town and in others at our sites.

Making sure that every child received a quality education was perhaps one of Father Flanagan’s greatest causes. He believed education was as essential as food, clothing and shelter in a child’s life. At Boys Town, academics and instruction in various vocational trades helped prepare boys to make their own way in society as men. Preparing children for life as adults has been, and will always be, the central focus of Boys Town’s mission.

As a Catholic priest, Father Flanagan advocated for a faith life for every child. But he believed children should decide how they would worship and pray. He famously said, “Every boy must learn to pray; how he prays is up to him.” Today, many Boys Town programs are faith-based, enabling us to heal children and families in body, mind and spirit.

Besides caring for children, Father Flanagan also was a staunch advocate of good parenting. Moms and dads across the country benefited from the valuable advice he shared in his numerous articles, booklets and books on child-rearing. Boys Town takes parenting education to a new level today, providing numerous programs and resources that teach positive, nurturing parenting skills.

Father FlanaganFather Flanagan’s ground-breaking ideas laid the foundation for many modern-day programs, reforms and life-changing care methods. He never hesitated to share his philosophy with others, speaking out against injustices through his writings and in newspaper and magazine articles, in speeches on radio and in person, and in discussions with top local and national leaders. He also traveled extensively, taking his message of child care reform to other countries, including his native land of Ireland. That international reach spawned numerous other “Boys Towns” around the world.

After World War II, Father Flanagan made visits to Japan and Germany to help lay the groundwork for the care of tens of thousands of children orphaned by the war. It was during this arduous, extended trek that he suffered a heart attack and passed away in Berlin in 1948 at age 61. Today, he is entombed in the Village to which he dedicated his life.

When he founded Boys Town as a humble home for wayward youngsters nearly a century ago, his bigger vision was to someday reach out to help children and families all across America. Today, his powerful dream lives on as Boys Town continues to reshape the lives of troubled boys and girls and change the way America cares for children, families and communities.

Based on his good works and ministry as a protector of children, an official cause for the canonization of Father Flanagan is underway.