OMAHA, Nebraska (Reuters) - The Omaha Archdiocese is launching a campaign for sainthood for Father Edward J. Flanagan, the Catholic priest who founded Boys Town and whose story was immortalized by an Academy Award-winning movie.
Flanagan dedicated much of his life to ministering to orphans and troubled youth, and is best remembered for establishing in 1917 the Omaha orphanage Father Flanagan's Boys Home.
The archdiocese will formally open the canonization process -- which is often lengthy -- with a March 17 prayer service at Boys Town's Immaculate Conception Church.
Flanagan, who died in 1948, was known for believing that every child could be a productive citizen if given love, a home, an education and a trade, and accepted boys of every race and creed. He is quoted as saying, "There are no bad boys. There is only bad environment, bad training, bad example, bad thinking."
His story was told in the 1938 film, "Boys Town," starring Spencer Tracy, who won a best actor Oscar for his portrayal of Flanagan.
The canonization process to sainthood starts in the archdiocese and goes to the Congregation of the Causes of Saints in Rome and to the pope. To be canonized a saint, at least two miracles associated with Flanagan must have been performed after his death.
Reverend Steven Boes, national executive director of Boys Town, said in a statement that Flanagan is receiving recognition he deserves.
"Though the process will be investigating proven miracles associated with Father Flanagan, we know that miracles occurred every day in his work to heal children in mind, body and spirit," he said. "These everyday miracles still occur as Boys Town continues Flanagan's work by saving children and healing families today."
Flanagan was born in 1886 in County Roscommon, Ireland. He came to the United States in 1904 and was ordained in 1912. He toured the United States discussing his views on juvenile delinquency.
After World War Two, President Harry Truman asked Flanagan to travel around the world for discussions about children orphaned and displaced by the war. During a tour of Europe, he died of a heart attack in Berlin, Germany, on May 15, 1948. He is buried in the chapel at Boys Town.
The canonization process has the potential to inspire the more than 230,000 Catholics in northeast Nebraska, said Deacon Tim McNeil, chancellor of the archdiocese, in a statement.
"If Father Flanagan becomes sainted, it would send a message to Nebraskans," McNeil said. "If he could live a holy and exemplary life in Omaha, why can't we all?"
(Editing by David Bailey and Paul Thomasch)