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One Priest's Mission to 'Homeless Waifs'

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Born in Ireland in 1886 into a Roman Catholic family of modest means, Edward J. Flanagan was often plagued by poor health. Unable to play as hard as his seven siblings, he became engrossed in intellectual and spiritual pursuits. By age 18, eager to enter the priesthood, Flanagan set sail for the United States to attend a seminary. His parents followed two years later and settled the family in Omaha, Neb., where their eldest son, Patrick, was already a parish priest.

The bishop in Omaha saw promise in young Edward and sent him to study theology at Innsbruck, Austria. Flanagan was ordained a priest there in 1912.

When Edward returned to Omaha to begin his work at St. Patrick's Church, the city seemed to be inundated with poor, jobless, and hungry men. Flanagan responded by collecting donations, cots, and clothing from local citizens. He opened his first enterprise, Father Flanagan's Workingman's Hotel, in 1916.

He learned that many of these destitute men had been abandoned as youths or came from families that could not afford to care for them.

"I knew my work was not with these shells of men, but with the embryo men--the homeless waifs who had nowhere to turn, no one to guide them," Flanagan wrote.

So for the next three decades, Flanagan devoted himself to that purpose. He set up Father Flanagan's Boys Home in 1917.

He died of a heart attack in 1948 while evaluating the orphanage problem in Europe for President Harry S. Truman. Heads of state, governors, and Hollywood celebrities flooded the mailroom at Boys Town with their condolences. Some 30,000 people reportedly attended his funeral.

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