One of the more disturbing aspects of this HHS mandate is knowing the degree to which our nation has profited from Catholics only now to have our consciences treated so shabbily.
As an example I give you the life of Fr. Edward J. Flanagan, the founder of Boys Town, and whose cause has recently opened. Many may remember the 1938 movie about the straight-talking priest played by Spenser Tracy, who won an academy award for his portrayal. Fr. Flanagan not only started a ministry for lost and abandoned boys in his neighborhood of Omaha but extended that work of compassion all over the country so that boys would beg, borrow and steal in order to come to Boys Town.
Boys as young as twelve, with parents who were either dead or had abandoned them would hop on busses or jump trains in order to make it to the outskirts of Omaha, Nebraska. Lives that would otherwise have remained unproductive and/or turned to crime were turned around by the feisty Irishman from Ballymoe.
Ahead of his time in many ways, Fr. Flanagan taught Americans what true compassion meant by allowing black boys and Native American boys and Polish boys and Irish boys, Catholic boys and Jewish boys and Protestant boys to all eat and sleep under the same roof. He caught a lot of grief for it. Folks literally ran him out of town, which is why he had to buy that farm. But he stuck to his principle that all boys are created in God’s image and deserve respect.
When World War II broke out, Fr. Flanagan was known as the nation’s “Number One War Dad” as he had hundreds of his boys overseas. But that was not his only contribution to the war. After the victory of the Allied Powers, Fr. Flanagan was sent to Japan by President Truman in order to help create a welfare system for the orphaned children of that devastated nation. In doing this, Fr. Flanagan was creating a system which that culture had never seen or needed up that point. They honor him there to this day.
Fr. Flanagan was also sent by Truman to Germany to help that country’s children cope with the war and set up orphanages, and it was while on this Presidential mission that Fr. Flanagan died of a heart attack. This priest gave his life for our country in the name of compassion for orphaned and lost children.
As people asked him what would happen to all those boys if he should ever die, Fr. Flanagan’s response was always to say simply that the work would continue because it was not his work but God’s. To this, today’s Presidential administration would say that, while nice and all, the fact that Fr. Flanagan employed non-Catholics and served non-Catholic boys means it’s not of God, it’s not religious activity, and it’s not protected by the first amendment.
And to that, I’m sure Fr. Flanagan would be joining Cardinal Dolan – another feisty Irishman – in denouncing the HHS mandate. As it is, the work of Fr. Flanagan can still be seen at Boys Town in Omaha and in hundreds of orphanages and places of hope for children all around the world. That’s something of God even if the administration is not willing to admit it.