Father Edward Flanagan, founder of “Boys Town” made famous by the Spencer Tracy movie, was a lone voice in condemning Ireland’s industrial schools back in the 1940s – and he was viciously castigated by church and government for doing so.
Fr. Flanagan, from Co. Roscommon, left Ireland in 1904 and was ordained a priest eight years later. In 1917 he was living and working in Omaha, Nebraska, when he hit upon the idea of a "boys town," which offered education and a home for the poor and wayward boys of Omaha.
However, demand for the service was so great that he soon had to find bigger premises. Boys Town, built on a farm 10 miles from Omaha, was the result.
The center was open to all. There were no fences to stop the boys from leaving. Fr. Flanagan said he was “not building a prison."
"This is a home," he said. "You do not wall in members of your own family.”