The Irish priest who founded the Boys Town orphanage in Nebraska, inspired a hit movie, and went to war with the Irish government and church in the 1940s over its treatment of children is on a ‘lightening speed’ course to become a saint.

Fr Edward Flanagan warned the Catholic Church of the potential for clerical abuse in state run institutions in Ireland as early as 1946.

He was denounced by the Dublin government and church leaders the Government in 1946 after he labelled State-funded Church-run industrial schools as ‘a scandal, unChristlike and wrong.’

Fr Flanagan went back to America where his pioneering work at the Boys Town orphanage in Omaha, inspiration for the movie starring Mickey Rooney, proved revolutionary.

Now the Irish Catholic newspaper reports that the Roscommon-born priest is being actively considered for sainthood by the Church which once dismissed his views.

Steve Wolf, president of the Fr Flanagan League Society of Devotion, told the paper that the process was moving at ‘lightning speed.’

Priests and parishioners in the Archdiocese of Omaha where Fr Flanagan was based for most of his life are leading the campaign to have him beatified.

Wolf told the Irish Catholic: “Their dedication and focus is moving this cause forward at a speed that is almost unheard of.

“Something really extraordinary is happening here.”

The Archdiocese of Omaha launched their campaign for Fr Flanagan’s beatification in March 2012.

Documents have since been collected on his life and ministry and testimony gathered from dozens of witnesses.

The report adds that local officials now plan to submit their findings to the Vatican next St Patrick’s Day.

The priest’s condemnation of institutions run by the Church and state in his native Ireland in the 1940s is now seen as inspirational. But at the time it provoked huge controversy.

Fr Flanagan was condemned by then Minister for Justice Gerald Boland who dismissed the cleric’s concerns.
Boland said: “The Government is not disposed to take any notice of what Fr Flanagan has said because his statements were so exaggerated that I did not think people would attach any importance to them.”

The report adds that when he arrived back in the US after his dismissal in Ireland, Fr Flanagan said: “I wonder what God’s judgment will be with reference to those who hold the deposit of faith and who fail in their God-given stewardship of little children.”

Fr Flanagan originally left Ireland in 1904 and was ordained a priest eight years later.

The Boys Town idea was launched in 1917 when he created an institution which offered education and shelter for poor and vulnerable boys in the community.He famously said: “There’s no such thing as a bad boy.”

The 1938 movie Boys Town, starring Spencer Tracey and Mickey Rooney, made a national hero out of Fr Flanagan.

The campaign to have him sainted has been welcomed in his native Roscommon.

Fidelma Croghan, an organizer with the Fr Flanagan Prayer Group in his native Ballymoe, told The Irish Catholic she was ‘delighted’ by the news.

She said: “In Ballymoe, we have a massive interest in Fr Flanagan’s cause and a passion for keeping it going. We are extremely proud of Fr Flanagan’s story.

“To come from such a humble and poor background and go on to achieve what he did is phenomenal.

“At a time when the Church in Ireland is going through such major difficulties, Fr Flanagan is an extremely positive example of priesthood.

“He was a man ahead of his time and is not well known enough in Ireland for what he achieved. I’m glad to see he is getting some recognition now.”

The report states that 16 alleged miracles attributed to Fr Flanagan have been reported over the past 10 years.

Two miracles are required for sainthood, one for beatification and the second for canonization. 

Father Flanagan reads to several children from Boys TownBoys Town