Section on Roscommon priest
A new book, entitled ‘The Courage of Their Convictions – Stories of Inspirational Men and Women of Faith’, written by Belfast native Gemma Grant, details the stories of religious laity from all over the world, including Roscommon native Fr. Flanagan.
Mother Angelica is one of the figures to feature. From humble beginnings in a troubled Italian American home, Mother Angelica went on to establish EWTN – a global network that began life in the garage of her convent. Her continued battles with bishops and cardinals for control of the network led her to inform one bishop in true Sicilian fashion: “I’ll blow the darn thing up before you get your hands on it!”
Pope Pius XII – erroneously referred to as ‘Hitler’s Pope’ – is depicted here in a very different light. While criticised for not speaking out more against Nazi atrocities during the Second World War, behind the scenes he was working with the allies and helping to save the lives of countless Jews.
Hollywood actress Dolores Hart, who gave Elvis Presley his first onscreen kiss, is also featured in the book. While still in her 20s, and with a promising acting career ahead of her, Dolores turned her back on Hollywood to become a Benedictine nun.
Closer to home, there was Fr. Hugh O’Flaherty. Known as The Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican, he founded the Rome Escape Line. His organisation saved countless Jews and Allies from Nazi oppression. He even managed to convert his one-time nemesis, Herbert Kappler – head of Rome’s notorious Gestapo.
Meanwhile, another figure, Sister Blandina, earned the title, ‘The Fastest Nun in the West’. While attempting to set up schools and hospitals in the American Wild West of the 1800s, she struck up an unlikely friendship with a notorious outlaw.
One of the people featured in the book is County Roscommon (Ballymoe) native Fr. Edward Flanagan, who founded Boys Town in Nebraska in the 1920s, a facility set up to essentially save underprivileged/troubled boys. The town within a town, it taught homeless boys the value of honesty, hard work and character building.
“When you help a child today, you write the history of tomorrow,” said Fr. Flanagan. During World War 2, Fr. Flanagan was named as ‘America’s No. 1 War Dad’ by the War Office, due to the numbers of servicemen who named him as their next of kin.
His life was brought to the ‘big screen’ by Hollywood in the 1938 movie, ‘Boys Town’, starring Spencer Tracy in an Academy Award-winning role for his depiction of this truly remarkable priest.
His army of homeless children never forgot him. The alumni of Boys Town, who initiated The Father Flanagan League, seek to spread worldwide devotion of his example as a protector of youth. Their endeavours have proven Fr. Flanagan correct when he said of them: “There’s no such thing as a bad boy”.
*Published by Veritas, ‘The Courage of Their Convictions – Stories of Inspirational Men and Women of Faith’ by Gemma Grant is on sale for €14.99.