As part of a series of events today, Roscommon library is hosting a celebration of the life and ministry of Father Edward Flanagan, the Roscommon-born priest who founded the renowned Boys Town orphanage in Nebraska, USA, in 1917. Bishop Kevin Doran, Bishop of Elphin, was guest speaker at the event.
The day’s events began with an introduction and address by Councillor Orla Leyden, Cathaoirleach of Roscommon County Council, followed by a showing of a short documentary on the impact of the Boys Town organisation Boys Town 100 years on.
Speaking at the event, Bishop Doran said, ‘Father Flanagan saw his responsibility, precisely as a priest, to engage himself actively in the care of the homeless, and subsequently of homeless children.’
He continued, ‘Father Flanagan’s belief was that the most effective power for change was the power of love. On numerous occasions, Father Flanagan returns to the idea that in the family or in society, in the home or in an institutional setting, the tool to be used for forming young minds and hearts in the ways of goodness and right relationship is that of love. As Father Flanagan himself stated, “where love abides, the answer to all of the problems confronting adults and children is ever present.”’
‘Father Flanagan would stand shoulder to shoulder with those who seek to protect unborn children from any ideology that would see them as disposable for any reason.’
Bishop Doran concluded, ‘Saints, like official reports, should not be left to gather dust. If Father Flanagan is beatified or canonised in the coming years, that might be seen as the end of a process, but it is only the beginning of a journey.
‘I would want the people of our diocese and of our country to be inspired by Father Flanagan and to learn from his example. For that reason, the Diocese of Elphin is supporting the development of a Father Flanagan Pilgrim Centre in his home parish of Ballymoe. This has already begun with the development of a memorial garden. It is hoped that, in the near future, we can begin transforming the old parochial house into a visitor’s centre. This is our small contribution to keeping alive the legacy of Father Flanagan in his home parish. In this centenary year of the foundation of Boys Town, I trust that his life will become better known, especially here in the Midlands and West of Ireland, where he was formed in faith and helped by love to develop the heart of a shepherd.’
Today’s celebration of Father Flanagan continues at 2.00pm, Professor Daire Keogh, deputy president of Dublin City University, who will give a talk entitled ‘Returning Hero: Father Flanagan’s Irish Tour 1946’. Writer and journalist John Waters will give the final talk of the day at 3.00pm, speaking on the topic ‘War on the Church: The Villainising of Virtue’.
Father Edward J Flanagan, the eighth of eleven children, was born on July 13, 1886 in Ballymoe, Leabeg, County Roscommon. He emigrated to America in 1904 where he joined the Dunwoodie Seminary in Yonkers as a seminarian for the Archdiocese of New York. Following illness, Father Flanagan continued his studies at the University of Innsbruck, in Austria, where he was ordained to the priesthood on 26 July, 1912.
Following ordination, Father Flanagan was appointed as assistant pastor to the Irish community at Saint Patrick’s Church in O’Neill, Nebraska. During his time here, Father Flanagan began offering shelter to drifters who passed through the area, and learned their stories of broken homes or neglect, or homes where parents had died. In response to this, on 12 December 1917, Father Flanagan opened his first ‘home for boys’ welcoming five boys between the ages of eight and ten. His initiative quickly outgrew the building, moving to a bigger location and by Christmas 1918 there were more than one hundred boys in the home. In May 1921, Father Flanagan received the deed to Overlook Farm, which became known as Boys Town.
Father Flanagan’s mission work took him to thirty-one states and to twelve countries in Asia and in Europe. More than 6,000 young people were under his direct care during his lifetime. The Boys Town organisation is continues to be active throughout America and serves more than two million people each year.
The full text of Bishop Doran’s talk can be found on www.elphindiocese.ie.
Photograph of Father Flanagan from Boys Town organisation.