Fr. Edward Flanagan, the Irish-born priest who founded Boys Town in Nebraska, talks with a group of boys in this undated photo. The Archdiocese of Omaha, Nebraska submitted all documentation gathered for his canonization cause to the Vatican. (CNS photo/courtesy Boys Town)

OMAHA, Neb. (CNS) — Each illustration took up to 20 hours, often done in the middle of the night after his family was asleep.

And each was necessary for Eli Hernandez to complete his 30-page children’s book, “Dearest Children: A Message Inspired by Father Edward J. Flanagan.”

Author: Eli Hernandez
Publisher: Boys Town Press
Length: 30 pages (peek inside)
Release Date: Dec. 2017

Working at night and on weekends, the project took about a year to complete, said Hernandez, manager of design and production in the marketing and communications department at Boys Town, the home for boys and girls in need founded by the priest more than 100 years ago.

“I borrowed from sleep to finish the project,” Hernandez told the Catholic Voice, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Omaha.

“Dearest Children” was written, he said, to help students in kindergarten through fifth grade understand the values of Fr. Flanagan, whose cause for canonization is being considered by the Congregation for Saints’ Causes at the Vatican. The priest was given the title “servant of God” when his cause was opened.

The author hopes the book’s illustrations and message will resonate with children of all ages.

“I have always thought about writing a children’s book. As the cause of Fr. Flanagan sainthood progresses, I realized that was the perfect topic,” Hernandez said.

The priest was an integral part of the process as well, the illustrator said.

“I would talk to him as I worked,” he recalled. “When I felt stuck, I would go to the chapel and sit with him. I’d ask him to pray for me as I worked.” The Irish-born Fr. Flanagan died in 1948 at age 61.

A member of St. Margaret Mary Parish in Omaha with his wife, Carey, who teaches art at the parish school, Hernandez said the book’s title was inspired by the term Fr. Flanagan used to address children in his care.


Hernandez’s presentation to school children

Each turn of the page leads to a Fr. Flanagan quote brought to life through Hernandez’s illustrations, many of which are based on photos of the priest and others at Boys Town. Each quote is paraphrased in ways intended to speak to children’s hearts.

Hernandez’s four children helped by posing for some illustrations. One, for example, depicts Fr. Flanagan — who was frail as a boy growing up in Ireland helping his family tend sheep — with a book in one hand and a shepherd’s staff in the other.

Fr. Edward Flanagan, the Irish-born priest who founded Boys Town in Nebraska, is pictured in an undated photo. The Vatican has taken a key step forward in the priest’s sainthood cause, local officials said May 15, 2017. (CNS photo/courtesy Boys Town)

“Have you heard of the sickly boy from Ballymoe who became the man who realized a dream? A dream to bring healing and hope to children in need?” the text reads.

A Fr. Flanagan quote included with the illustration follows: “When you help a child today, you write the history of tomorrow.”

Hernandez said Fr. Steven Bose, Boys Town executive director, provided encouragement, input and inspiration for illustrations along the way including that particular page.

“I shared my idea for this illustration with Fr. Bose, and he suggested I depict Fr. Flanagan as a shepherd boy. He reminded me that Fr. Flanagan’s father was a shepherd and that is what Fr. Flanagan was for the children, and continues to be for us.”

The book also provides opportunities for families to learn together.


What do you know about Boys Town?

When Hernandez presented it to Erin Green, director of Boys Town Press, she suggested that he contact Laura Buddenberg, Boys Town director of pastoral affairs, to provide supplemental activities for the book, such as encouraging families and children to be compassionate, make sacrifices for others and pray at meals.

“The book is a good example of beauty blending with core principles put into action,” said Buddenberg, a member of St. Leo the Great Parish in Omaha. “Although the book is intended for children K through five, I have had many teenagers come into my office and simply sit and look through the illustrations. The art speaks to all ages.”

Hernandez welcomes opportunities to talk with elementary school students about Father Flanagan and the process of creating the book.

Father Flanagan League

“My hope is that this book creates the next generation of followers of Fr. Flanagan’s vision,” he said.

Keller writes for Catholic Voice, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Omaha.