The cause for canonization of Servant of God Edward Flanagan, the priest who founded Nebraska's Boys Town community for orphans and other boys, advanced Monday with the presentation of a summary of records on his life.
The positio, which summarizes the records collected by the Archdiocese of Omaha, was presented to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints July 22, along with a letter of support from Archbishop George Lucas.
The positio argues that Flanagan demonstrated heroic virtue.
“It has been a privilege to offer my support for the cause of Father Edward Flanagan at each stage of this process,” Archbishop Lucas said. “I was able to share with Cardinal Becciu the encouragement offered to all of us in the Church during this challenging time by the virtuous life and work of Father Flanagan.”
The Omaha archbishop had met with Cardinal Becciu, the prefect of the congregation, in January.
Father Flanagan helped at least 10,000 boys at Boys Town in his lifetime, and his influence extended around the world.
The priest was born in Ireland’s County Roscommon July 13, 1886. He emigrated to the U.S. in 1904 and was ordained a priest in 1912. He was assigned to what was then the Diocese of Omaha.
After working with homeless men in Omaha, he founded a boarding house for all boys, regardless of their race or religion. He soon moved his work to Overlook Farm on the outskirts of Omaha, where he cared for hundreds.
The home became known as the Village of Boys Town, growing to include a school, dormitories, and administration buildings. The boys elected their own government to run the community, which became an official village in the state of Nebraska in 1936.
Father Flanagan’s work inspired 80 other Boys Towns around the world. The original Boys Town now serves about 80,000 kids and families each year.
After World War II, the priest helped care for orphans and displaced children in Japan, Germany, and Austria at the request of US president Harry Truman.
Flanagan also worked to reform the criminal justice system’s treatment of minor offenders.
The priest rose to national and international prominence for his work. Spencer Tracy won an Oscar for his portrayal of Fr. Flanagan in the 1938 movie “Boys Town.”
Father Flanagan died in Berlin of a heart attack May 15, 1948. His corpse is interred in a memorial chapel at Boys Town.
Flanagan's cause was opened in the Archdiocese of Omaha in 2012, and the diocesan phase was concluded in June 2015.
At that time, documents produced by the diocesan tribunal were signed and sealed, and then sent to the Vatican.
An official of the Omaha archdiocese told CNA that since 2015, the local Church has continue to investigate Flanagan's life, and possible miracles attributed to his intercession.
In January 2017, the then-prefect of the congregation, Cardinal Angelo Amato, signed a decree affirming the validity of the diocesan phase of Flanagan's cause.
The positio will now be reviewed by historical consultants at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, then theological consultants, and finally the members of the congregation.
If all three groups agree, the congregation would then recommend that Pope Francis declare Flanagan “Venerable”, the next stage in the process of canonization.
Omar Gutierrez, who served as notary for the tribunal that investigated Flanagan's life, told CNA in 2015 that the priest “was a man driven by his love for Jesus Christ to care for children who were forgotten and abused. He is a great model for the priesthood and for what Catholic social teaching looks like in the real world.”
Steven Wolf, president of the Father Flanagan League Society of Devotion and vice-postulator of his cause, said he thinks there is abundant evidence of the priest’s heroic virtue.
“He completely immersed his life in the gospel, and lived it,” Wolf told CNA. “He completely poured his life into saving these kids nobody else wanted to deal with.”
Father Flanagan integrated young boys, “built a society around them, and put love, God’s love, in the middle of their circumstances and helped them to become whole and complete people.”
“He could see the face of Christ in every child, and he wanted to help every child, not just be successful citizens, but also be saints.”
Wolf added, “We need people to look into this man’s life, look into this man’s motivation, and look at his example and live that example. Pray that we can make our culture a better place through the way that he lived the gospel in his life.”
In 2015, Gutierrez said that two alleged miracles attributed to Flanagan's intercession were being investigated.