OMAHA – Fr Edward Flanagan who started Boys Town in 1917 with a rented house and five troubled boys who needed a home in Omaha, USA, might someday be named a saint.

Now, Boys Town helps more than 1.6 million people each year through its main campus of group homes, churches, a grade school and high school, post office and bank, as well as a national research hospital in Omaha, a national hotline, and other services and locations around the country.

The process toward canonisation began on Feb 27 with Archbishop George J. Lucas – surrounded by more than 200 people with dozens of cameras flashing – placing a notice on the doors of St Cecilia Cathedral in Omaha.

The notice, which is a centuries-old church tradition, alerts the public to the opening of Fr Flanagan’s sainthood cause. It also invites people to share their thoughts with a tribunal that is being formed to review the priest’s life and works.

If there is a declaration of the priest’s heroic virtues, the Church will give him the title “venerable”.

The second step is beatification, after which he is called “blessed”. The third step is sainthood. At various steps in the canonisation process, evidence of alleged miracles is presented to Church authorities. In general, two miracles need to be accepted by the Church as having occurred through the intercession of the prospective saint.

If Fr Flanagan is canonised, he would be the first person declared a saint whose ministry was based in the Archdiocese of Omaha.

The process could take years to complete – or even decades, said Mr Omar Gutierrez, director of the archdiocesan Office of Missions and Justice and the tribunal notary.

But Mr Gutierrez and others involved in Fr Flanagan’s cause said they believe the process could move relatively quickly because officials at Boys Town have organised easily accessible records on the late priest’s life.

“We are humbled and overjoyed by Archbishop Lucas’ acceptance of our petition to examine the heroic virtue and sanctity of Fr Flanagan,” said Mr Steven Wolf, league president and a 1980 Boys Town High School graduate.

Fr Boes, executive director of Boys Town, said its officials are excited to have the organisation’s founder receive such recognition.

“Though the process will be investigating proven miracles associated with Fr Flanagan, we know that miracles occurred every day in his work to heal children in mind, body and spirit,” he said.

Br Emmanuel, former director of Boys’ Town, Singapore said, “I could not be more convinced that it needed a man called by God, filled with grace and strength to combat his way to the courts, everywhere the youth at risk were found, and bring them to the Boys’ Town he had founded, a veritable oasis of peace for these young people needing a second chance.

“I have been in Boys’ Town Singapore and I have often inspired myself from the example and life of Fr Flanagan and I can only conclude that indeed he could not have achieved what he did without being truly a Servant of God, who saw Christ in each and every one of the kids he monitored, transformed and gave a new meaning in life.”

Mrs Irene Loi, executive director of Boys’ Town, Singapore, said, “Boys’ Town, Singapore takes our inspiration from Fr Flanagan... . In this town, we believe that there is no such thing as ‘bad boys’ – there is only ‘bad environment’, ‘bad training’ and ‘bad example’.”

“We not only run a residential programme for these youths, we also run a street outreach programme (in collaboration with Catholic Welfare Services) to reach out to the youths at risk on the streets.” n

CNS photo (Above): Father Edward Flanagan, The Founder of Boys Town

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