Irish-Born Founder of Boys Town, Father Flanagan, May Soon Be Declared ‘Venerable’

Bishop Kevin Doran of Elphin, Ireland, told CNA that there is a good reason to hope that Father Flanagan will soon be declared as such by the Vatican.

Father Edward Flanagan with baseball players at Boys Town
Father Edward Flanagan with baseball players at Boys Town (photo: Courtesy of the Father Flanagan League)

A Catholic priest reputed for rescuing homeless and impoverished children on the streets of Omaha, Nebraska, is expected to soon be declared “Venerable” by the Vatican, placing him on the path to canonization.

Father Edward Flanagan, who died in 1948, was an Irish-born priest whose saintly life has been narrated in a recent documentary, Heart of a Servant: The Father Flanagan Story.

In a follow-up interview after the film’s premiere on July 26 in Sligo, Ireland, Bishop Kevin Doran of Elphin, Ireland, told CNA that there is a good reason to hope that Father Flanagan will soon be declared Venerable by the Vatican.

In an email exchange on Sept. 5, he told CNA: “Father Flanagan is recognized as a Servant of God since his case was sent to Rome in 2015. Following the examination of the case by the various commissions involved with the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints, there are grounds for hoping that he will soon be declared Venerable.”

Reflecting on the life of the heroic Catholic priest, Bishop Doran told CNA that Father Flanagan “rescued children from homelessness and poverty in Omaha and provided a place for them that they could call home.”

Bishop Doran explained how the children were not only provided with “all the practical and academic skills for daily life but also formed in faith and Christian living.”

He continued: “Father Flanagan is a saint, not just because he did these things but because he was motivated to do so by a deep personal relationship with God.

“Inspired by the same spirit of respect for others as the children of God, he opposed racism and sectarianism, even at great personal risk. He also reached out to refugees and especially children displaced by war. In truth, he ‘laid down his life’ in imitation of the Good Shepherd.”

When asked how quickly he thought the case of Father Flanagan would progress, Bisho Doran said these things were hard to predict. He continued: “An authenticated miracle is one of the requirements of beatification. This is taken as evidence that the Spirit of God is truly at work in the life of the one who is proposed for beatification. I am aware that a number of possible miracles have been and are being considered, but the criteria are very specific; generally relation to healing for which there is no medical or scientific explanation. This may take time. It is in the hands of God.”

When asked which causes Father Flanagan might become patron of should he eventually be canonized, Bishop Doran said there were several, in his opinion.

“Father Flanagan could be a patron saint under many headings,” he wrote. “Seminarians: because of the courage and faith he demonstrated in overcoming the obstacles he encountered on the way to priesthood; vulnerable children: because of the huge respect and love he had for children; ecumenism: because of his commitment to receiving any child who came to him, irrespective of religious denomination; migrants: because of his outreach to Japanese migrants interned in the U.S. during WW2; children displaced by war: because of his outreach to children in Japan, the Philippines, and Germany after WW2.”

Flanagan was born in County Galway in 1886 and moved to America in 1904. 

Due to poor health, he was twice forced to postpone his seminary studies before he was eventually ordained in 1912.

Thanks to his ministry in Nebraska, he was invited in 1947 by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who was leading the Allied occupation of Japan, to review the child-welfare conditions in Japan and Korea. He was also invited to do the same in Austria and Germany the following year.

While in Germany, Father Flanigan suffered a heart attack and died on May 15, 1948. His body rests at Dowd Memorial Chapel of the Immaculate Conception in Boys Town, Nebraska.