Father Flanagan Visitor Centre to open in Ballymoe this month

Father Edward Flanagan, the Irish-born priest who founded Boys Town in Nebraska, is pictured in an undated photo.

The Father Flanagan Group based in the Parish of Ballintubber-Ballymoe has this week announced the opening of a new visitor centre to honour Fr. Edward J Flanagan, founder of the world-renowned Boys Town in Omaha, Nebraska, USA.

With the support of the Diocese of Elphin, the Father Flanagan Group has completed the renovation of the presbytery in Ballymoe to become the diocesan and national focal point for commemoration of Father Flanagan in Ireland, where visitors can learn about his life and mission.

The renovation work, costing approximately €70,000, commenced in 2021 with funding for the project obtained through donations, from the Diocese of Elphin, as well as very generous sponsorship from the Father Flanagan League in the USA.

This follows on from previous Father Flanagan projects that have already been completed in Ballymoe. A life-size statue of Father Flanagan, designed by the American sculptor Fred Hoppe, already proudly stands at the site of the local Community Centre, while the Father Flanagan Memorial Garden, constructed in 2016, lies at the rear of the new visitor centre, beside St. Croan’s Church. The garden is carefully laid out to reflect the life and work of Father Flanagan.

From a family of eleven, Edward Flanagan emigrated from Ballymoe to America with his sister Nellie, sailing out of Queenstown in Cork on the S.S. Celtic and arrived at Ellis Island, New York on August 27th 1904. He was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Omaha on July 26th, 1912.

Often described as Ireland’s greatest gift to America, his life story was made famous by the Hollywood film ‘Boys Town’ starring Spencer Tracey and Mickey Rooney in 1938. The film won Spencer Tracey an Oscar for his portrayal of Father Flanagan. Upon receiving the Oscar, he gifted it to Father Flanagan at Boys Town, where it remains today.

Father Flanagan was also a close confidante of US President Harry Truman. He undertook several foreign missions on behalf of the US Government, to highlight the plight of displaced and abandoned children in Japan and Europe after World War II. It was on one such foreign Presidential mission in Germany in 1948 that he died. He is buried in Boys Town, and his tomb there receives thousands of visitors annually.

The cause for the Canonisation of Father Flanagan was opened in 2015 by the Father Flanagan League in Omaha and is currently with the Vatican. He has the title of Servant of God Edward J Flanagan. Recently, Father Flanagan has been included in the primary school religious education programme, ‘Grow in Love’ as a Christian Hero under the social justice lesson for 6th Class.

On Sunday 21st August, the celebrations in Ballymoe will commence with Mass at 10 am in St. Croan’s Church, celebrated by Bishop Kevin Doran. The opening and blessing of the Centre will take place after Mass, followed by light refreshments in Ballymoe Community Centre.

A delegation is expected to arrive in Ballymoe from Omaha as many Nebraskans will be in Ireland this month to see their football team, the Nebraska Huskers, play in the Aviva stadium, and some will take the opportunity to visit Father Flanagan’s home village of Ballymoe during their trip.

All are welcome to join the celebrations in Ballymoe on Sunday, August 21st. The Father Flanagan Visitor Centre will be open from 11 am to 2 pm, Monday 22nd – Saturday 27th August.