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Father Flanagan Email Series: Issue 4

Beyond Care: Empowering Boys With Opportunity and a Voice

Father Flanagan’s concern for the abandoned and mistreated boys extended far beyond the borders of Boys Town, Nebraska. During the late 1920s and the 1930s, Father Flanagan crisscrossed the country interceding for boys, some as young as nine, who were being tried as adults for violent crimes and even murder. The “juvenile” justice system of the day treated these children like adults, even the nine-year-old who accidentally shot his friend with a gun they found while playing. Father fought tirelessly both in person and through the press to change the way children were treated in the justice system.

America's #1 War Dad

December 7, 1941 brought a new and painful role for Father Flanagan. Three young men from Boys Town died at Pearl Harbor and one survived to write and tell Father of the day. Father Flanagan had taught his charges to live with honor, character and courage, so it should be no surprise that over 1,000 young men who were currently or had once resided at Boys Town enlisted in the war to defend their country.

For most of the Boys Town enlistees their next of kin was Father Edward J. Flanagan. In fact, so many Boys Town youth had named him their next of kin that Father Flanagan was named the #1 War Dad by the American Association of War Dads. Father wore this mantel proudly, traveling the country promoting war bonds to support the effort and stopping at military instillations to rally the troops and check in on his boys. 

Making a Global Impact

In 1946 Father Flanagan traveled to his childhood home of Ireland, hoping to reform the egregious conditions he had become aware of in the nation’s “Industrial Schools, ” Borstals and reformatories, which often included forced labor coupled with only the slightest amount of care for the children (minimal food, shelter and clothing), as well as corporal and fear-based punishment used to keep the youth in line. Father Flanagan’s outspoken condemnation of such treatment of Ireland’s next generation moved him from a semi-celebrity in his homeland to someone at odds with the Irish government and Irish-Catholic Church, both of whom bore responsibility for continuing the brutal child care system.

Father Flanagan returned home and began collecting information for a return to Ireland, when he received a request from none other than General Douglas McArthur. McArthur requested that Father Flanagan come to Japan to provide input on what could be done to assist the orphaned and homeless youth that were prevalent across Japan and Korea after WWII. 

Father Flanagan answered the call immediately, thinking that his vision for Boys Towns across the world might now be a possibility. Father saw millions of homeless, orphaned children across Japan in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, Hiroshima, Nagasaki and more. He visited Seoul, Kaesong and Pusan in Korea with millions more distressed youth. Father Flanagan felt the fate of these youth rested in his hands. In his heart he knew that that what he proposed and helped implement in these countries would help save what would otherwise be a lost generation. 

Over 40 days he toured and inspected 15 cities, as well as the countryside which also had its fair share of wandering orphans. In each city he met with the U.S. Military who were responsible for helping to rebuild infrastructure and the local government who were trying desperately to help its citizenry, and then he always held a public talk after his meetings, usually attended by interested citizens, educators, mother’s groups and university students.

I do not know of any other way whereby I could save a child from a life of crime in a penitentiary other than to offer the facilities of my Home.

Father Flanagan

Next Issue… A Life Ended Too Soon.

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We’re still building Father Flanagan’s dream one precious child at a time.

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