1900s · Catholic Church · Nebraska · Orphans · States · United States

December 12, 1917 – Father Flanagan Starts What will Become Boys Town

Image Source: Boystown.org
Being an adult in today’s world is rough. Being a parent is just that much harder. Kids don’t come with an instruction manual –Heck life didn’t come with one either– and we as parents do our best to teach our children. Every parent’s dream is for their child to have a better life than they had.

What happens when humanity gets in the way? We humans have this amazing gift called agency. We are free to choose our actions and responses and no one is forcing us to act or respond in a set manner. As a result of this agency humans are fallible and subject to stumbling. When a parent becomes unable to care for their children there are mechanisms in place to step in and help.

I used to think that the child welfare system was full of bullies that were just looking for any reason to take a child away from their parents. I have recently been taking classes to be a foster parent and my eyes have been opened. The purpose of the foster program is to help families –not just the kids in foster care– but their parents too. The goal of the foster program is to reunite families.

This world is a rough place filled with violence, crime, drugs, and other addictive substances that rob us of our existence. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services at any given time there are about 500,000 children in foster care. Each year there is almost an even amount of children entering foster care as leave it.

On December 12, 1917, 21-year-old Catholic Priest Edward J. Flanagan borrowed $90 to rent a run-down Victorian mansion in Omaha, Nebraska. At the time, Father Flanagan was the Assistant Pastor to Saint Patrick’s Catholic Church. As Assistant Pastor, he worked with the homeless young men of the area and was growing discouraged. He rented the mansion to give boys of all ages a place to stay and grow.

He had a dream that every child could be a productive citizen if given love, a home, an education and a trade. He accepted boys of every race, color and creed. Father Flanagan firmly believed, “There are no bad boys. There is only bad environment, bad training, bad example, bad thinking.”


What started as a home for boys, was filled with over 100 boys come spring. And in 1921 became Boys Town after the purchase of a farm near Omaha.

Father Flanagan
Image Source: Boystown.org
Father Flanagan wanted to create citizens that would go and produce more citizens.

Today Boys Town is founded on a model of five principles.

#1 – Teach children and families life-changing skills.

#2 – Help children and families build healthy relationships.

#3 – Empower children and families to make good decisions on their own.

#4 – Care for children in a family-style environment.

#5 – Support children and families in religious practices and values.

This program started by a young man for young men almost 100 years ago has helped millions of families.

Father Flanagan became the expert on raising children and taught around the United States, and gave his life to helping children in need. After World War II he was touring war-torn Europe when he had a heart attack and died May 15, 1948.

“…The work will continue, you see, whether I am there or not, because it is God’s work, not mine.” – Father Flanagan

I was moved by the thought of writing this topic. I don’t know that I personally know someone that has lived at Boys Town. I do believe in their mission. A couple of things on their website I wanted to share.

Right now, in communities throughout the country, hundreds of thousands of children are living in fear, seeking guidance and in desperate need of compassion. Powerful forces are also at work tearing at the fabric of our families. Wherever these children and families are hurting, Boys Town is helping. With the support of our generous donors, we’re reuniting kids with their families, finding foster homes for others, providing a Boys Town family for those with nowhere else to turn, and still others are receiving help at home where they can remain together as families.

Every day, abused and neglected children and broken and struggling families seek help from Boys Town. The care we provide is uniquely effective because it is driven by our unwavering belief that every child and every family has the potential to succeed, regardless of their circumstances.



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