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Father Flanagan Insights

Father Flanagan had a keen insight into a great many social issues affecting children and families. His understanding of these issues was often the driving force behind revolutionary improvements in child care and family stability. The following excerpts from his vast library of writings and speeches illustrate how his ideas are as relevant today as they were in his own time.

Problems Youth and Families Face

The youth of today are living in a world far different from any which we ever knew. The urban trend of the population, the congestion of our cities, the altered position of the home in the social fabric, and the unprecedented amount of leisure time which is now at youth's disposal, all have their parts to play in accentuating youth's problems. Add to these the fact that we now have a predominance of commercialized amusements, that our news stands reek with vicious and erotic literature, and we have such a miasma of social health that it seems, at times, a marvel that any youth can escape unscathed. Yet this is the world which we have built - this is the world in which our boys and girls must try to grow into socially conscious and responsible maturity.

The Value of Education

As the child grows older and starts to school, he gets his first book. It is a treasure house to him and if the parents will begin at this point in hi life to help him want to learn, and to teach him the wonders of the world that await those who really seek them out, he will look ahead to study as a great adventure in life.

No one is ever too old to learn. The world is constantly changing and bringing to us new and different developments. It is opening new fields for every generation. The boys who are in grade school today will be the leaders of the next generation. If we can keep alive in them the love of learning, the wholesome curiosity about things around them and things they dream about, then we will be fostering a most precious gift of life.

I believe the time has come when we must educate for life's needs, for more efficient workers, better citizens and happier individuals. Instead of teaching subjects, we must teach the boy. Formal education has its place and this is most important through the elementary grades which take an average child through his 13th or 14th year. From then on, vocational guidance becomes an all important phase in a boy's life.

The Importance of Home

There should be no question in the minds of those interested in child welfare about the normal home being the proper place, and, in fact, the only safe and sane home for the normal child. Society is built on the family unit. The link of interest, love, and sacrifice between parents and children must never be broken to insure the proper results of healthy children. Such a normal home furnishes the ideal environment for the proper bringing up of children. Individual care, personal love, and interest make such an impression on the child's mind that there is a ready response of reciprocal love, obedience, and gratitude.


Parents are the first preceptors of the lessons of life and living. Even in the cradle - the youngster makes his first moves toward habit formation. Throughout the preschool period, there is no one to whom the child can look for the guidance he needs and which he ought to have besides his parents. To father and mother he must look for food, and clothes and shelter. Those are necessities for physical existence. To the father and mother, he must also look for fulfillment of his mental needs, and parents should be keenly alive to the fact that children have mental lives to lead as well as physical existences to be sustained.

Proper and Permanent Care for Children

The normal home is the greatest blessing for healthy, normal children. The foster home which opens its heart to the orphan and homeless child is the greatest blessing for the dependent child, for in that home he can receive the same care, the same interest, the same love and discipline that are administered in the normal home. The institution which takes children in their neglected condition and prepares them for placement in foster homes as well as giving permanent care to its nonplaceable children is rendering a service to helpless children which the God of Love alone can understand and in His own good time reward with dividends.

Healing in Body, Mind and Spirit

I attribute a small measure of success we have had in handling our problem cases to many factors: First, our Home is situated in the country on a hundred and sixty acre farm, away from the distractions of congested city life. The healthy country air, plenty of good, wholesome food, most of which we raise on our farm, plenty of recreation, enable our boys to build up good, strong, healthy bodies, and this is the first essential. You must have a sound, healthy body in which to develop a healthy mind. Character building is our next most important work, and first of all a child has to be taught his position in society, his dependence on others whose duty it is to take care of him, taken an interest in him, make sacrifices for him, and he in turn by love and strict obedience to show his appreciation and gratitude. Religious training is a most vital factor in awakening in the child's a mind a sense of duty and responsibility. His helpless dependence on God for everything, and God's love for humanity should instill in the child's mind an intense love of God.

Early Teaching for Children

We live in a land blessed by Providence with every advantage. Yet, in turn, we turn our criminals at a rate unparalleled in history. Children are not born bad or criminal. By their training, which is faulty or neglected entirely, they become so.

The preschool years of children are most critical. Children assimilate habits very young. They also reflect the personalities with whom they come in contact.

Only the best in guidance, training and education will develop them in them the kind of habits that will develop them into constructive citizens.

At Boys Town, we have a well-rounded program of work, rest and recreation, which are the rights of every boy. Boys Town succeeds because it gives back to these underprivileged boys their boyhoods and at the same time, prepares them for manhood.

The Need for Boys Town

Boys Town must grow. Present facilities are inadequate for the every-increasing numbers appealing to us for a home and care. If we do not take them, there is an institution in every state that will care for them and then their cost becomes very great on the taxpayers.

I have founded a life work on the premise that no boy really wants to be bad. Twenty-two years have gone by since I first enunciated this principle, and opened my Home to prove it. I have never once had occasion to retract it, or to alter it in any way, and in that time I have dealt with thousands of boys. Children are not born bad or anti-social. Our youth do not consciously want the pain and heartbreak which follow in the way of a criminal career. But broken homes, disinterested parents, inefficient schools, and neglectful communities leave them little choice.

At Boys Town, each citizen has a daily task in keeping with his age and ability. The tasks are not over long or too arduous, but they are kept up from day to day, and the usefulness of them is readily apparent. Thus our citizens learn responsibility; they learn how to achieve; the multifarious duties involved in the maintenance of the Home and our large family of boys offers a wide variety of pursuits. It is no wonder that our boys graduate with fixed goals in mind, and that they steadily pursue them. That is the normal result of a normal process, entirely devoid of magic or mystery. It would be strange if our boys turned out otherwise.