Boys Town founder up for sainthood

2012-02-28 14:00
A Boys Town student holds a portrait of founder Father Edward Flanagan outside St Cecilia Cathedral in Omaha, where the archbishop has opened the cause for his beatification. (Nati Harnik, AP)

A Boys Town student holds a portrait of founder Father Edward Flanagan outside St Cecilia Cathedral in Omaha, where the archbishop has opened the cause for his beatification. (Nati Harnik, AP)

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Omaha - A Roman Catholic priest whose efforts to help troubled Omaha youth were made famous by Spencer Tracy's Academy Award-winning portrayal of him in the 1938 movie Boys Town has been nominated for sainthood.

Archbishop George Lucas posted an announcement on the doors of St Cecilia Cathedral on Monday saying the Omaha Archdiocese had begun the process of seeking sainthood for the Reverend Edward Flanagan.

"We are humbled and overjoyed," said Steven Wolf, president of the Father Flanagan League, which has long sought sainthood for Flanagan.

"We see this as a response to the Holy Spirit that is moving through an international groundswell of devotion that, as best we can measure at this time, includes devotion to Father Flanagan by the faithful in nine countries and 36 states here in the US."

The Irish-born Flanagan, who died of a heart attack in 1948 at age 61 while visiting Germany, founded the Boys Town orphanage in a downtown Omaha home in 1917.

Boys Town moved to its current west Omaha location several years later, and today serves as a centre for troubled area youth while running campuses and programmes for thousands of other boys and girls across the country.

Servant of God

The organisation also operates an Omaha research hospital and a national resource and training centre, and it has a publishing arm, Boys Town Press.

Lucas said the archdiocese will open a cause for sainthood on March 17, which is St Patrick's Day, at Flanagan's gravesite on the Boys Town grounds. On that day, Flanagan will be named a "servant of God" and a group of tribunal members will be assembled to review Flanagan's life work.

According to US Conference of Catholic Bishops, the church then requires three more steps for a candidate to become a saint: Veneration, beatification and canonisation.

In the first step, the title of "venerable" is given to someone who has died and been recognised by the pope as having lived heroic virtues. To be beatified, one miracle must be attributed to the candidate. Canonisation requires a second miracle, although the pope may waive some of these requirements.

The Father Flanagan League has gathered testimony from six people in its quest to prove to the Vatican that Flanagan is responsible for several miracles, all involving the curing of illnesses.

Among those who testified is a woman from Italy who says she was cured of what should have been a fatal brain aneurysm after praying for Flanagan's help, Wolf said. Another woman from Omaha says prayers to Flanagan cured her of advanced breast cancer.

Long road to sainthood

Wolf noted that the six cases are yet to be proven with medical documentation, but the group hopes the Vatican will find miracles took place in at least two of the cases.

What is certain is that the road to sainthood will be a long one.

"Usually, it's a pretty slow process," the Reverend Thomas J Reese, a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Centre at Georgetown University, said of attaining sainthood. "Except for some recent ones like Mother Teresa and John Paul II, we're talking 20 years before some of these people get through the process.

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