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Brother William Woeger, left, holds sealing wax, Archbishop George J. Lucas witnesses and Omar Gutierrez, notary for the archdiocesan tribunal for the sainthood cause of Father Edward Flanagan, ties a ribbon June 18 on one of four boxes of documents detailing the archdiocese’s investigation into Father Flanagan’s life of service during a special ceremony at St. Cecilia Cathedral in Omaha. Photo by Susan Szalewski/Staff. Below, performers from Lincoln-based S.T.A.G.E. (Student Theater and Godly Evangelization) demonstrate their roles in “Flanagan’s Boys: The Story of Boys Town” at a gathering after the Mass. Photo by Joe Ruff/Staff.

Archdiocese advances Father Flanagan canonization effort to the Vatican

People throughout the archdiocese had reason to celebrate June 18 when the sainthood cause for Father Edward Flanagan, Boys Town’s founder, was advanced to the Vatican.

But for some the occasion was especially significant: Boys Town residents and employees, Father Flanagan’s family, people who helped with the archdiocesan investigation through hard work and prayers, the people of his native Ireland and Archdiocese of Omaha priests.

About 800 people witnessed the historic 9 a.m. Mass at St. Cecilia Cathedral in Omaha that marked the close of the archdiocesan phase of the canonization effort. It ended with a special ceremony to encase and officially seal four boxes – 4,600 pages – of documents detailing the archdiocese’s three-year investigation.

The archdiocesan documents are being shipped to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints at the Vatican. If the findings are accepted, Father Flanagan would be declared "venerable."

The ceremony was a once-in-a-lifetime event, a first for the archdiocese, to have one of its members – an archdiocesan priest – advance toward possible beatification and canonization, said Omar Gutierrez, notary for the archdiocesan tribunal for the sainthood cause.

For some, the ceremony was more than historic.

"I think it’s a great day for the kids of Boys Town," said Father Steven Boes, Boys Town executive director.

The students consider themselves part of Father Flanagan’s work and like the idea of him becoming a saint, Father Boes said. "They think it’s cool."

At the Mass, Boys Town residents filled two pews toward the front of the cathedral. Archbishop George J. Lucas had them stand for special recognition after Communion. "I’m afraid Father Flanagan would have put the brakes on this whole thing if I hadn’t recognized" the students, he said.

Members of Father Flanagan’s family also attended, including three great-nephews: brothers Ed Flanagan, of Boys Town’s Immaculate Conception Parish, and Mike Flanagan and Jim Flanagan, of St. Robert Bellarmine Parish in Omaha. Ed Flanagan, who serves on the board of directors for the Father Flanagan League Society of Devotion, said he felt "honored and blessed" by the large turnout.

Jim Flanagan agreed.

"It’s absolutely an honor," he said. "It’s a great celebration."

Among those concelebrating the Mass were Bishop Kevin Doran of Elphin, Ireland, Father Flanagan’s native diocese, and Father Patrick O’Toole, pastor of the parish in which Father Flanagan grew up in Ballymoe, Ireland.

Bishop Doran said he holds up Father Flanagan as a model in his diocese. He said he tells 12-year-old confirmation students: "The Holy Spirit can do amazing things in your life, too, if you let him."

Father Flanagan lived and preached the Gospel "unapologetically," Bishop Doran said, and knew "how to mediate God’s love to young people."

Father Flanagan, like Pope Francis, has "put a face on the precepts of the Gospel," a witness that extended from Omaha out into the world, Archbishop Lucas said in his homily.

In particular, Father Flanagan is an example for archdiocesan priests, he said. They should imitate him and entrust themselves to God to grow in grace and holiness, depend on the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and develop "a heart for the poor" and others in need, Archbishop Lucas said.

Numerous people in the archdiocese worked on the sainthood cause "diligently and respectfully over several years," he said. He thanked members of the tribunal investigating the cause, historical and theological commissions, the Father Flanagan League Society of Devotion and Andrea Ambrosi, who as postulator for the sainthood cause will continue to defend the case for Father Flanagan in Rome.

Father Ryan Lewis, pastor of St. Thomas More Parish in Omaha and the episcopal delegate on the tribunal, said the sainthood cause has advanced because the people of the archdiocese have pushed it.

"It’s really the grassroots church lifting someone up," he said. "It’s awesome."

Two alleged miracles attributed to Father Flanagan’s intercession also will be studied in the archdiocese, by two yet-to-be-named tribunals, Gutierrez said. One authenticated miracle is needed for Father Flanagan to be declared "blessed," and a second for sainthood. The tribunals will work one right after the other, not at the same time, he said.

The archdiocese’s investigative work can pause now, Ed Flanagan said, but prayers for Father Flanagan’s cause need to continue.

Archbishop Lucas said he encourages people to pray at Father Flanagan’s tomb at Boys Town’s Immaculate Conception Church and invite him to intercede for their specific needs.

Ed Flanagan said the one thing his grandmother stressed the most about Father Flanagan was "his devotion to prayer, and how powerful prayer is."

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