Lent in Omaha—a time of repentance and moderation for devout Catholics—is synonymous with crowded lines of happy, drunken people waiting for heaping piles of deep-fried fish.
Parishioners and non-churchgoers alike rejoice with the approach of Ash Wednesday. Non-Catholics who have never joined in the fun should not hesitate. All are welcome. Lenten fish fries (complete with raffles, pickle cards, and bake sales) are the biggest fundraising event of the year for many Catholic churches, schools, and charities in Omaha.
The beer-infused Friday fry-day gatherings are a popular annual ritual in Midwestern cities with robust Catholic communities. Omaha’s large Catholic population means that several dozen churches will host fish fries throughout the 40 days of Lenten fast (six weeks). Meanwhile, there are plenty of other community groups, such as the local Disabled American Veterans, hosting their own Lenten fish fries.
Some start the Friday before Ash Wednesday. Most begin after Ash Wednesday formally initiates the Lenten season. Some conclude after only a few weeks; others continue for the entire duration of the Lenten fast, including Good Friday two days before Easter.
Not all of them are bacchanals, with children running wild while parents and young adults socialize. A few are alcohol-free. But all are genuine family-friendly celebrations of community.
Expect to spend a few hours standing and waiting in line at Omaha’s most-popular fish fries. The long wait—and the chance to meet new friends while drinking beer—is sometimes the most fun part of the evening.
Omaha Magazinehas compiled a list of six must-try fish fries for every week during Lent. But the list is hardly exhaustive. Other excellent fish fries are plentiful in the Omaha area. For those in a hurry, seeking out lesser-known gatherings might even save on the wait time. Or you might just discover a new Lenten favorite.
HOLY NAME CATHOLIC CHURCH (2017 Best of Omaha Winner)
Omaha’s oldest Lenten fish fry event, the Holy Name “Fryday” is famous for its jam-packed line, fried Alaskan pollock, french fries, coleslaw, and Rotella’s bread. The BYOB line makes the event especially unique for the 21-and-over crowd. Those arriving at 6 p.m. can expect to find a line stretching out the church, through the adjacent Holy Name Elementary School, and circling around the building. A wait time of three hours is not unusual. The initiated come prepared with coolers full of beer to sustain drinking through the long wait. Upon entering the main building, a free cup of beer is offered. Another free cup of beer is offered if there’s a line out the cafeteria. More beer is sold inside the cafeteria, and a storeroom accommodates winter coats and coolers. Nebraska politicians are known to make appearances at the event, which averages an attendance of 2,300 people per night. Fridays (5-8 p.m.), February 24 (pre-Lenten) to April 7
MARY OUR QUEEN CATHOLIC CHURCH (2017 Best of Omaha Winner)
A packed line meanders through the halls of Mary Our Queen School, where intermittent refreshment tables allow visitors to replenish their beer pitchers/cups in one of Omaha’s most-popular Lenten fish fries. Young volunteers walk up and down the school’s hallway to collect emptied pitchers. Popcorn is available in the line near the cafeteria. A drive-through allows motorists to avoid the packed halls. Food options include: fried or baked fish, macaroni and cheese, spudsters, fries, coleslaw, bread, with assorted soft drinks and desserts also available for sale. Fridays (5-8 p.m.), March 3 to April 7
ST. PATRICK’S CHURCH OF ELKHORN (2017 Best of Omaha Winner)
The fish fry at St. Patrick’s features fried or baked catfish and/or pollock. Margaritas and a variety of beers offer a change of pace from the adult beverages typically available at area fish fries. Cheese pizza, fries, coleslaw, macaroni and cheese, and dessert round out the available food options. There’s a drive-through, and there are clowns and face-painting for the kids inside. Fridays (5-9:30 p.m.), March 3 to April 7
ST. VINCENT DE PAUL CATHOLIC CHURCH
14330 Eagle Run Drive, Omaha, NE 68164 .402.496.7988 .svdpomaha.org
A cheerful and welcoming atmosphere radiates from the jam-packed line snaking through the halls of St. Vincent de Paul Catholic School. The event features $3 cups, $8 bottles of wine, and $8 pitchers of Boulevard, Lucky Bucket, or Bud Light beer. For those seeking better quality beer on the cheap, St. Vincent de Paul’s fish fry is an excellent choice. Food options include fried or baked fish, cheese pizza, macaroni and cheese, coleslaw, and fries or baked potato, with assorted soft drinks and desserts also available for sale. Credit cards accepted. Fridays (5:30-8:30 p.m.), March 3 to April 7
Alcohol is not sold at the event; however, St. John’s offers possibly the most delicious food available at any Omaha area Lenten fish fry. The church also offers historic tours of its Byzantine-style building from 5:30-6:30 p.m. A kitchen full of volunteers (some of whom grew up in Greece and migrated to the United States) cook and serve plaki—a Greek baked cod with Mediterranean sauce. Also available: panko-fried cod, breaded-fried shrimp, baked salmon, and vegetable moussaka (an eggplant lasagna), spanakopita (a pie filled with spinach and feta cheese), and piropita (cheese baked in phyllo dough). Specialty cheesecakes and baklava sundaes await at the dessert bar. Fridays (4:30 to 8 p.m.), March 3 to April 7
Clam chowder is one of the unique offerings at Holy Ghost Parish’s annual Lenten fish fry. The varied menu offers: shrimp, baked or fried cod, macaroni and cheese, or a combo dinner. Each dinner comes with baked potato, salad, fruit bar, and a drink. Beer, margaritas, and “watermelons” (a mixed drink) are sold. While the line is long, the wait is neither the longest nor the most beer-soaked in town. Expedited takeout service is available at the west end of the church. Fridays (4-8 p.m.), February 24 (pre-Lenten) to April 7.
The March/April issue of Omaha Magazine hits the streets just as Oscar season comes to a close. Meanwhile, the subject of Omaha’s best-known Oscar-winning story is up for an even greater recognition—sainthood. A tribunal from the Vatican is currently scrutinizing Boys Town’s founder, the late Father Edward J. Flanagan, for canonization.
Boys Town (the movie) tells a fictionalized story of the real-life Father Flanagan. Released in 1938, the movie was actually filmed on the grounds of Boys Town. Spencer Tracy won the Academy Award for Best Actor with his portrayal of Father Flanagan, and Tracy’s Oscar sits in a protective case at the Boys Town Hall of History.
The Village of Boys Town was engulfed by Omaha’s westward sprawl. But Boys Town itself has grown significantly, too, with satellite locations throughout the metro (and nationwide). This year, Boys Town enters its 100th year of operation.
Should Pope Francis designate Father Flanagan to be a saint, the Village of Boys Town would become a place of holy pilgrimage. Add that to Omaha’s list of annual pilgrimages (a cherry—or maybe “halo” would be a better word—on top of Berkshire Hathaway’s annual shareholder meeting and the College World Series).
Although Father Flanagan’s earthly remains now rest in a tomb adjoining Dowd Chapel on campus, if he is canonized a saint, the village would need a shrine to accommodate the throngs of devout pilgrims (to avoid disrupting the normally calm chapel that was designed by local Omaha architect Leo A. Daly according to Father Flanagan’s own instructions).
Omaha Magazine’s March/April cover story tells the tale of Father Flanagan’s life and his ongoing canonization process. With St. Patrick’s Day, Lent, and Easter taking place during this issue’s distribution period, the magazine has taken on a noticeably Catholic theme.
The cover story’s author, Carol Crissey Nigrelli, converted to Catholicism one year ago on Easter. She has become the magazine’s go-to writer for all subjects Catholic. Nigrelli wrote about the last nuns of Duchesne Academy in the September/October 2016 issue. She also profiled the University of Notre Dame’s president in “From Omaha to Notre Dame” for the cover story of our November/December 2015 issue.
Omaha Magazine’s 35th Anniversary
A publication titled Omaha Magazine has existed in Omaha since the 19th century. The earliest version, according to publisher Todd Lemke, was published in 1890. It was a satirical newsprint publication in magazine format, he says.
Lemke entered Omaha publishing in March 1983 with the first issue of City Slicker, the precursor to his current Omaha Magazine. This March issue of Omaha Magazine marks the 35th anniversary of Lemke’s career in magazine publishing. That history explains why Omaha Magazine’s issue numbering starts with No. 1 in March.
When CitySlicker was initially in distribution, another Omaha Magazine was on the streets. Lemke says the previous Omaha Magazine—no relation to the current magazine—started in the 1970s and folded a few years after he had entered the local media market.
The Omaha Magazine brand name came available in the late 1980s. Lemke secured the copyright, and the first issue of his Omaha Magazine came out in 1989. The rest is history.
Today, Omaha Magazine Ltd. is the parent company of Omaha Publications, which also produces several other local community-focused magazines such as Encounter, B2B Magazine, Omaha Magazine’s Family Guide, and assorted custom publishing products.
For 35 years, Lemke’s Omaha Magazine (previously known as City Slicker) has told the stories of Omaha people, culture, and events. Thanks for reading!
A small, framed black-and-white photo hangs on the living room wall of the Rev. Clifford Stevens’ modest apartment, located on the south campus of Omaha’s famous Village of Boys Town. It shows Monsignor Edward J. Flanagan sitting at his desk, looking up at several teenage boys standing around him.
“That’s me, second from the right,” declares Stevens, pointing to a dark-haired, good-looking 16-year-old with a dimpled grin. “That picture was taken in 1942 to commemorate the school’s 25th anniversary, the year I came to Boys Town.”
As someone who knew the tall, affable Irish priest personally—and those numbers keep dwindling—Stevens never doubted his mentor and biggest champion would one day travel the road to sainthood.
“He was very warm and gentle, with the kindest smile I ever saw in my life,” says Stevens, still energetic and sharp at age 91. “He was very considerate and completely dedicated to the welfare of children.”
The longtime Omaha priest and prolific author recently discontinued presiding over daily Mass at Dowd Chapel, the Catholic house of worship on campus, to concentrate on writing his third biography of Father Flanagan. Stevens expects publication by the fall as part of Boys Town’s centennial celebration.
“Boys Town has been around 100 years and I’ve been part of it for 75 years,” he says with a mixture of pride and wonder.
Those who have benefited directly from the safe haven created by Father Flanagan for poor, orphaned, abused, neglected, or at-risk boys (the school opened its doors to girls in 1980) need no convincing of the priest’s Christ-like presence on earth. Convincing Rome, that’s another story. It takes years and enormous preparation, as dictated by ancient Catholic canon law.
Four boxes filled with leather-bound dossiers attesting to Father Flanagan’s “heroic virtue” arrived at the Holy See in Rome in June 2015, the result of a 2 1/2 year investigation into the priest’s life by the Omaha archdiocese.
“They literally put Father Flanagan’s whole life on trial here in Omaha,” explains Steve Wolf, a member of the Boys Town alumni group that helped ignite the quest for sainthood in 1999. “Everything that could possibly be known about Father Flanagan, through any number of sources, was all examined thoroughly.”
Although 2,000 names precede Father Flanagan’s on the list of sainthood causes, the boxes from Omaha have not sat idly in some Vatican room.
“We know the tribunal in Rome is reviewing the work of the Omaha archdiocese because they’ve been communicating with us here, trying to clarify information or asking for additional testimony,” Wolf says. “It’s absolutely an active, open case, and that’s encouraging.”
Will Rome agree Father Flanagan led a life so good and so holy in service to others that he put his own life in peril? Does he meet the requirement of “historic virtue?” Wolf, a 1980 graduate of Boys Town, sees no other conclusion.
“He received death threats many times because he was without prejudice or discrimination, integrating Boys Town with blacks and kids of Jewish faith,” he says. “The Ku Klux Klan once threatened to burn Boys Town down,” prompting Father Flanagan to respond, “What color is a man’s soul?”
If the case for sainthood didn’t exist, “[Omaha] Archbishop [George] Lucas would never have signed off on it and sent the boxes to Rome,” says Wolf, who readily admits Boys Town turned his life around. The father of five girls now heads The Father Flanagan League: Society of Devotion, an organization made up of alumni and lay Catholics that focuses on fundraising and forwarding the cause of sainthood through an international groundswell of support. Wolf credits the hard work of Boys Town historian Tom Lynch with enabling a speedy local investigation into Father Flanagan’s life.
“When I was hired by Boys Town 30 years ago as a graduate student in history, our archives weren’t organized,” explains Lynch, chairman of the historical commission that gathered written material for the sainthood cause. “We had about 2 million documents and half-a-million pictures just dumped in the building without rhyme or reason.”
Every day for more than 10 years, Lynch picked up pieces of paper, read them, then placed them in the proper category until the archives became a major resource center. Lynch and his “great crew of volunteers” eventually created a timeline accounting for nearly every day of the priest’s life, from his birth in Ballymoe, Ireland, in 1886, to his death from a heart attack in 1948 while on a goodwill trip to post-war Germany.
Lynch created the Hall of History, where thousands of visitors come every year to learn the story of Boys Town and the man who founded it. When the representative Rome sent to Omaha to investigate the sainthood request saw all the required material on display, he told Lynch, “You’ve taken about 25 years off the process.”
Those closely involved in the cause, though sworn to secrecy, cautiously think all the requisites for beatification and canonization exist. A separate tribunal in Rome is examining two of the 17 alleged miracles attributed to Father Flanagan (after his death), where someone was cured after praying to him, defying medical explanation. If proved, the Vatican will declare him Blessed, followed by a declaration of sainthood.
Father Flanagan began his life with people praying to God on his behalf, offering up pleas for divine intervention. On the day he came into the world, Eddie Flanagan, the eighth of 11 children born to a sheep farmer and his wife in County Roscommon, Ireland, turned blue, then purple and started convulsing. The midwife told the family the baby wouldn’t last the night.
But Eddie’s grandfather, a veterinarian, unbuttoned his flannel shirt, wrapped the newborn in a blanket and held him against his chest. He paced in front of the large kitchen hearth all night, holding the baby close. By morning, the baby’s coloring had returned to normal. Prayers had been answered.
“We believe he was born prematurely, which would explain why the family was so worried those first few days,” says Wolf. It would also help explain why Eddie was susceptible to respiratory problems all his life—health so fragile it nearly derailed his deep desire to follow his older brother, Patrick, into the priesthood.
Illness forced him to leave the seminary twice, once in Yonkers, outside New York City, the other time in Rome. After nearly dying from double pneumonia while studying in New York, his brother Patrick, who had been dispatched from Ireland to minister in “the Middle Western Plains of Nebraska,” suggested Eddie stay with him in Omaha. “The air is clean and brisk here, where your lungs can heal,” wrote Patrick.
The younger Flanagan regained his health in Omaha, but “the archbishop didn’t want him! He thought he was too sickly to become a priest and wouldn’t let him study here,” says Stevens, shaking his head. “So he got a job as an accountant at the Cudahy meat packing plant in South Omaha. That’s where he acquired his business skills.”
The young man finally finished his seminary studies in the warmer climes of Innsbruck, Austria, and returned to Omaha after his ordination in 1912. Five years later, on Dec. 12, 1917, Father Flanagan opened his first Boys Home at 25th and Dodge streets. He had found his calling.
People who only know Father Flanagan from Spencer Tracy’s Oscar-winning performance in the 1938 movie Boys Town may understand his mission, “but they don’t know this man,” says Wolf. “He was a consultant to world leaders on youth care after World War II. Who did President Truman send to Japan and Germany—countries we had defeated—to assess the problem of displaced or orphaned children? A priest. This priest.”
Almost 70 years after his death, Father Flanagan can still reach out from beyond the grave and touch souls, Wolf believes. He experienced it personally.
Raised in Omaha as a Baptist by a single mom, Wolf had shrugged off all organized religion by the time he graduated from Boys Town, and he held a particular disdain for the Catholic Church. Wolf returned to campus for an alumni convention in 1999, shortly after the group announced plans to seek sainthood for their founder.
“I was sitting in the very last pew of Dowd Chapel for a special Mass that I felt obligated to attend,” he relates, “and I looked over my right shoulder and there’s Father Flanagan’s tomb right there in that little room. Suddenly, I was just overcome, almost crying. Here I am trying to do something to honor him, and I realized I’m not even the kind of kid he would have wanted me to be.”
At that moment, Wolf’s conversion to Catholicism began.
Even historian Tom Lynch, who has immersed himself in all things Flanagan his entire adult life, came away from the tribunal experience with renewed respect for the sanctity of Boys Town’s founder.
“People laughed at him, told him it would never work because he wanted to treat the kids humanely,” Lynch says. “There are no fences or gates around Boys Town. No physical punishment. He was very much their champion.”
As Omaha awaits a decision from Rome, which could take years, Father Flanagan’s legacy continues to better the lives of more than 2 million children and families, with outreach programs and medical services on 11 Boys Town campuses from New York to California.
Father Flanagan must have sensed that his belief in the basic goodness of children would bear fruit. Shortly before his death, he wrote, “… the work will continue, you see, whether I’m here or not, for it’s God’s work, not mine.”
July 13, 1886 – Edward Joseph Flanagan born in Leabeg, County Roscommon, Ireland. Parents: John and Honora (Larkin) Flanagan.
July 18, 1886 – Edward Joseph Flanagan baptized, St. Croan’s Catholic Church, Ballymoe, Ireland. Father Crofton officiated. Godparents: Patrick and Mary Jane Flanagan.
August 27, 1904 – Edward Joseph Flanagan arrived in United States aboard S.S. Celtic, White Star Line.
September 1906 – Edward Joseph Flanagan entered St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie, New York.
May 31, 1907 – Left St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie, New York.
July 4, 1907 – John, Nora, and Edward Flanagan arrive in Omaha, Nebraska.
July 26, 1912 – Edward Joseph Flanagan ordained by Bishop Elder for the Brixon Diocese in St. Ignatius Church, Innsbruck, Austria.
July 27, 1912 – Father Edward Joseph Flanagan celebrated his first Mass in the Jesuit Church at St. Ignatius Church, Innsbruck, Austria.
August 25, 1912 – Father Edward Joseph Flanagan celebrated his first Solemn High Mass at Holy Angels Church, Omaha, Nebraska.
September 5, 1912 – Father Edward Joseph Flanagan assigned as assistant pastor, St. Patrick Parish, O’Neill, Nebraska.
March 15, 1913 – Father Edward Joseph Flanagan assigned as assistant pastor, St. Patrick’s Church, Omaha (Pastor: John T. Smith).
February 2, 1915 – The Rev. John T. Smith died. Flanagan became acting pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish.
Mid-January 1916 – Father Flanagan opened the Workingmen’s Hotel in the Old Burlington Hotel, leased by St. Vincent de Paul Society.
July 9, 1916 – Father Flanagan assigned as assistant pastor, St. Philomena Parish, Omaha, Nebraska (Pastor: James W. Stenson).
Early September 1916 – Father Flanagan moved Workingmen’s Hotel to Livesay Flats where he could care for 300 men.
December 12, 1917 – Founded Father Flanagan’s Boys’ Home.
December 12, 1917 – Flanagan celebrated last Mass as assistant pastor, St. Philomena. Relieved of all parish duties.
May 8, 1919 – Flanagan became a citizen of United States of America.
February 24, 1920 – Articles of Incorporation for Father Flanagan’s Boys’ Home filed with state of Nebraska.
Summer 1921 – Began construction of five buildings on Overlook Farm: two school buildings, two dormitories, and a refectory/dining hall.
October 17-22, 1921 – Father Flanagan’s Boys’ Home moved to Overlook Farm.
July 2, 1922 – Elected president of Omaha Welfare Board.
September 1925 – Inauguration of periodical radio broadcasts for Father Flanagan broadcast over WOAW, sponsored by Woodmen of the World Insurance.
March 1927 – Father Flanagan moved into new home, Father Flanagan House.
October 12, 1930 – Radio program ”Voice of the Homeless Boy” expanded outside of Omaha.
October 23, 1937 – Flanagan appointed Domestic Prelate with title of “Right Reverend Monsignor” by His Holiness, Pope Pius XI.
November 21, 1937 – Investiture service for Father Flanagan to Monsignor, Boys Town Auditorium.
December 2, 1937 – Appointed to Childrens’ Committee of National Conference of Catholic Charities.
February 20, 1939 – Honorary Life Member of the Boys’ Republic of Arlington, Virginia.
June 26, 1939 – Father Flanagan received First Annual Humanitarian Award from Variety Clubs International. Presented by founder, John W. Harris, at Fontenelle Hotel, Omaha, Nebraska.
November 1939 – Father Flanagan appointed to Board of Diocesan Consultors to succeed Monsignor A. M. Colaneri.
April 2, 1941 – Father Flanagan appointed by governor of California to Governor’s Committee on the Whittier State School.
May 27, 1942 – Father Flanagan received certificate for Distinguished Service on Behalf of the National War Savings Program, U.S. Treasury Department.
November 3, 1942 – Father Flanagan began weeklong war bond tour, during which he sold almost $3 million in bonds.
February 1944 – Father Flanagan made life member of the National Humanitarian Award Committee, Variety Clubs International.
September 5, 1944 – Certificate of Service from U.S. Navy, Letter from Secretary of the Navy, James Forrestal to Father Flanagan.
October 17, 1944 – Father Flanagan received letter naming him Number One War Dad in America by the National Council, American War Dads.
February 1, 1946 – Father Flanagan named to National Panel for Study of Juvenile Delinquency Problems by U.S. Attorney General Tom Clark.
April 7, 1946 – Father Flanagan appointed member of the Naval Civilian Committee by Secretary of the Navy, James Forrestal.
November 1, 1946 – Father Flanagan received the Kiwanis Medal for Distinguished Service from Kiwanis Club of Lincoln, Nebraska.
February 28, 1947 – Father Flanagan received an invitation from Secretary of War Robert P. Patterson to tour Japan on behalf of war orphans, etc.
April 7, 1947 – Father Flanagan left Omaha for Japan and Korea at invitation of Secretary of War Robert Patterson and General Douglas MacArthur regarding juvenile welfare.
July 8-11, 1947 – Father Flanagan went to Washington, D.C., to report to Secretary of War and Navy and President Harry S. Truman.
May 15, 1948 – Died, Berlin, Germany.
May 17, 1948 – Funeral for Monsignor Edward Joseph Flanagan in Berlin Cathedral. Conrad Cardinal V on Preysing, Bishop of Berlin, officiated.
May 21, 1948 – Funeral for Edward Joseph Flanagan in The Chapel of the Immaculate Conception, Dowd Memorial Chapel, Boys Town, Nebraska.
Steps Toward Canonization
by Thomas Lynch
Attaining sainthood follows three phases and four steps of recognition. The phases are pre-diocesan, diocesan, and Roman. The levels of recognition are (in sequential order) Servant of God, Venerable, Blessed, and Saint.
The pre-diocesan phase requires a spontaneous or groundswell of devotion. The Father Flanagan League: Society of Devotion initiated this first phase of the process.
Omaha archbishop George Lucas initiated the second phase by appointing a tribunal to investigate the life and virtues of Father Flanagan. This is the diocesan phase, during which the candidate is recognized as Servant of God. In a formal ceremony during June 2015, the archbishop advanced the cause to the Vatican for further investigation.
Currently, Father Flanagan is in the Roman phase. A tribunal appointed by the Vatican further investigates the life and virtues of Father Flanagan and the miracles associated with him. The canonization process takes many years. To be canonized a saint, there must be proof of at least two miracles attributed to Father Flanagan that have occurred after his death.
The Vatican determines whether he would be recognized as Venerable based on investigation of miracles attributed to Father Flanagan after his death. After being recognized as Venerable, additional miracles (miracles not already submitted for his canonization cause) must be submitted and verified for Father Flanagan to be formally recognized as Blessed. After the tribunal makes recommendations to the pope, he decides whether to declare the priest a saint of the church. Confirmation of sainthood is then scheduled for an official ceremony at a later date.
This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.
A variety of sounds greet one at the front door of the Maloleys’ home. The sounds of a piano, at least one violin, and a cello come from different areas of their 1950s home. Something else sounds like a complete symphony.
l-r, Caroline, Jacob, Meredith, Zachary, Clara, and Sam Maloley
“Oh, that’s a CD,” Julie Maloley says with a slight wave of her hand like it’s no big deal.
It’s a bit of a cacophony…but only a little bit. It is, however, everyday life for Maloley and her children. They all play the violin and the piano.Sons Sam, 14, and Jacob, 8, play the cello.
Caroline, 13, practices the piano daily for approximately 30 minutes after breakfast, then moves to her violin. Sam practices cello after breakfast, then moves to the piano. Meredith, 17, practices the violin after she attends a math class at Millard North first thing in the morning.
For now, she’s the only one attending class in a traditional school building. Sam wants to play baseball in high school, so along with violin, piano, and cello, he plays on a select baseball team. And yes, he also studies.
Julie home-schools her kids using a curriculum called Mother of Divine Grace. The Catholic-based curriculum emphasizes liberal arts. Youngest daughter Clara comes in from the main room to the library, with its built-in bookcases packed with tomes on subjects ranging from literature to music theory to biblical studies, and plunks down at the table with a handwriting book and a pencil.
“It’s distracting out there,” she announces, proceeding to perfectly copy pages of cursive letters—mimicking skills learned in earlier decades.
Indeed. Youngest son Zachary, who turns 7 on June 2, practices piano with Caroline’s aid. Jacob stands around anxiously waiting with his cello.
“Jacob! Just wait!” Julie calls out as she hears a low note from the string instrument combined with the sounds of the piano. “Sam will be done soon.”
As Sam comes up from the basement, Zachary heads down.
The chaos actually benefits the kids. They study under the Suzuki method, a theory of musical study started in the 20th Cenutry by Shin’ichi Suzuki. Central in this philosophy is that all people can (and will) learn from their environment.
The family’s affair with music began when oldest Madeline, 20, was 3. Julie’s nieces and nephews played instruments, so Julie and husband
Skip began violin lessons for their daughter.The next year Madeline began playing piano.
“It kind of snowballed one right after the other,” Julie claims.
Madeline now studies at the University of Nebraska at Kearney on a violin scholarship.
They aren’t always this anxious to practice. Today (April 13) is Clara’s 11th birthday, and they are all practicing willingly, because they are going to the zoo for her special day. Mom told them they need to finish practicing and schoolwork before they can leave.
Besides, a big event is about to happen. The beautiful, yet disjointed sounds of cello and violin heard in the Maloleys’ home are brought together along with violas and a stand-up bass that Friday night at the Omaha Conservatory of Music’s opening night gala. Guests sit in the new concert hall that once housed the sanctuary of Temple Israel, listening to the sounds of the Beatles performed by 30 young strings players. Five of those players hold the last name Maloley.
The group performing such well-known pop tunes as “Let it Be” is Frontier Strings, an ensemble at the Omaha Conservatory of Music.
Aside from performing with the strings group, Meredith takes violin lessons from executive director Ruth Meints. She plays at Hospice House on Wednesday nights, (per mom’s orders) and teaches music to 16 students, who troop through the house one right after another each weekend. Her ultimate goal is to become a music teacher.
Sitting in the audience, often, is their father. Skip is the lead database administrator for Green Plains and owns Pacific Solutions Inc.
“Dad enjoys watching the kids. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be able to do this,” Julie says of both homeschooling and allowing the kids to participate in multiple music lessons.
Julie herself doesn’t claim to be a musician, but is able to play piano and violin. She often practices with the kids, and sits in on lessons. One of the cores of the Suzuki method is that the parent be able to supervise instrument practice, and take notes at lessons in order to coach the children effectively.
She has coached them well. The perfect sounds of Bach’s Gavat come from Clara and Caroline’s violins, along with several other youngsters, as guests stroll through the executive suite at the conservatory’s gala.The Maloleys, along with all the children, are poised, eager, and happy to perform.
“It’s not that I think they will be Juilliard musicians, but it’s something they can do for the rest of their lives.”
On a seasonably pleasant Friday evening last July, members of the Jenkins and Wessling families gathered at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church for a wedding. The bride’s uncle had traveled back to his hometown to officiate. Dr. Erin Jenkins and her dozens of cousins know the priest simply as Uncle John. You know him more formally as the Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C. (Congregation of Holy Cross), president of the University of Notre Dame.
As leader of the most renowned Catholic school in the country—perhaps in the world—Jenkins’ responsibilities and schedule leave little room to breathe. Yet he found time to honor a twin daughter of his older brother, Tom, and to squeeze in another opportunity to visit with his beloved 86-year old mother, Helen.
“My father, Harry Jenkins, was a gastroenterologist who taught at Creighton Medical School and mother went to nursing school,” says the Rev. Jenkins. “Dad died in 2004,” shortly after his son’s election as Notre Dame’s president. “Our parish was St. Pius X and then St. Leo’s. My mother still lives in the family home.”
“Omaha is still very important to him,” says Tom Jenkins. “Even though he has another family [the priests], he’s very interested in coming back here and spending time with Mom and our family. He’s humble that way. Genuine.”
Returning to the city that formed his Catholic faith and to the family that molded him as a man seems to agree with Jenkins. Laughter and a relaxed mood punctuated the wedding weekend.
“John has always been kind of quiet and calm,” Tom says. “People don’t realize he’s also a lot of fun and quick to laugh. He’ll be the first one to share a joke or a story.”
The Holy Cross priest’s sense of humor has served him well since assuming the helm of the 12,000-student campus near South Bend, Indiana, a decade ago. Under his leadership, Notre Dame’s reputation as an academically elite undergraduate program and a top research school has ballooned, its endowment has tripled to $10 billion, and the Fighting Irish football team has fought its way back into the conversation.
As president, how does he balance the decidedly secular issues of academics and research with the school’s Catholic identity?
“Notre Dame is a place of faith,” Jenkins says. “That gives it a distinctive role in being a place of conversation, of inquiry that can take up issues of faith and morality in ways that are powerful. We have a set of Catholic principles that guide our educational efforts as well as our work in the world.”
Notre Dame’s Catholic identity, some would argue, has hit turbulent times.
Like many Catholic institutions, including Creighton University, Notre Dame has recently drawn fire for its response to hot-button social issues—granting employee marriage benefits to same sex couples, for example. Jenkins has absorbed the blows with grace, for beneath his quiet, thoughtful demeanor lies the steeliness of a man with a keen sense of identity and mission. As Creighton theology professor Dr. Eileen Burke-Sullivan points out, “Anyone who actually operates on behalf of the kingdom of God knows that you draw criticism on yourself. I don’t think any religious leader can have thin skin.”
Jenkins’ quick wit, his seeming ease with everyone he meets, and his ability to listen and compromise no doubt spring from a childhood surrounded by what can politely be described as controlled chaos.
“We had 12 kids in our family, six boys and six girls,” says Jenkins, who checks in at number three in the lineup. “I’m very close to my brothers and sisters.”
In 1966, when Jenkins was 12, the family moved from 75th and Blondo to a new, seven-bedroom home in a lively Catholic neighborhood on 100th Street, then the western edge of the city.
“I would say on our block alone, there were about 50 kids,” says Tom, an attorney. “We never had any trouble getting baseball teams together. We usually had 11 to a side.”
The Kizers lived next door and contributed nine children to the mayhem.
“There was something different about John, something special, even when we were young,” muses John Kizer, the Rev. Jenkins’ best friend growing up. “He was a big thinker and was always looking for a place to get quiet time, which was tough in a household of 12 kids.”
The friendship between the two Johns extended all through St. Pius X grade school and Creighton Prep, where Jenkins ranked high on the popularity meter. His classmates voted him Prom King senior year.
“I got a lot from Creighton Prep,” says Jenkins, whose middle name, Ignatius, honors the founder of the Jesuit order. “I’m very grateful to my Jesuit friends.”
Jenkins’ popularity at Prep benefited from his athletic abilities. He was one of the top swimmers in the state and played on the school’s inaugural soccer team, following his parents’ example of mental discipline and physical activity.
“Our dad entered the Hawaii Ironman contest when he was 58,” Tom marvels. “And his triathlon buddies dedicated a steel-sculpted bench with depictions of bike riders along [Omaha’s] Keystone Trail to him.”
Harry and Helen Jenkins also encouraged each child to follow their heart, opening the door for the third oldest to explore his desire to contribute to society. That desire became evident during a backpacking trip through Europe with Kizer the summer between their freshman and sophomore years in college.
“We had two different sets of interests,” laughs Kizer, president and chairman of Central States Indemnity Co. of Omaha. “I had the beaches of Saint-Tropez and [golf’s] Old Course at Saint Andrews on my list. John was more interested in Dachau [Concentration Camp] outside Munich, Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, and Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. We spent lots of time in Rome.”
Following his continental adventure, Jenkins decided to join Tom at Notre Dame. He earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy in 1976, followed by a master’s degree in the same subject.
“Notre Dame gave me a superb education, a very vibrant and robust intellectual life, and an ability to combine that with a serious faith,” Jenkins says. “I had questions about my life and what I should do with it. That eventually led me to prayer and to the seminary about a year after I graduated.”
“It didn’t surprise me he became a priest and rose through the ranks,” says Kizer. “There are certain people that, when you meet them, you know they’re a cut above.”
Jenkins’ decision to join Notre Dame’s founding community of priests necessitated a separation from his Omaha family and, according to a 2005 Chicago Tribune article, “a difficult breakup with his [Omaha] girlfriend.” After receiving his doctorate from Oxford, Jenkins returned to his alma mater in 1990 as a professor of philosophy.
Since he first stepped onto what is called the campus “God Quad” in 1973 as a sophomore transfer student from Creighton University, Jenkins’ goal has been to serve the school he loves in whatever capacity it needs. That he would reach the highest level of service makes for an impressive Omaha success story, but not an isolated one.
Jenkins joins several current, high-profile priests with doctorate degrees who call the Omaha area home. William Leahy, S.J., 67, the president of Boston College, was born in Omaha and raised across the Missouri in Imogene, Iowa. Leahy still has family here. Daniel Hendrickson, S.J., 45, is Creighton University’s new president. He calls Fremont home and attended Mount Michael Benedictine High School in Elkhorn. His identical twin, the Rev. Scott Hendrickson, also a Jesuit, teaches at Loyola Chicago. Archbishop Blase Cupich (pronounced SOO-pitch), 66, was recently appointed by Pope Francis to head Chicago’s archdiocese. He grew up in ethnically rich South Omaha. He and Jenkins first met in Rome during the aforementioned backpacking trip and remain friends.
Omaha produces not only heavy hitters in the Catholic Church, but heady intellects as well.
“Omaha has always had an excellent system of Catholic schools,” Jenkins says. “It had a big impact on me, and I’m sure it had a big impact on Bishop Cupich. It’s a vibrant Catholic community.”
“Historically, we have had an unusually high Catholic population,” explains Dr. Burke-Sullivan. Much of that can be traced to the European and Eastern European immigrants who came to work in South Omaha’s meat packing plants. “They brought with them a rich, progressive Catholicism, plus the belief that hard work and cooperation with others is the norm.” She says Omaha’s Jesuit and Benedictine communities influence intellectual pursuit. “And I would not discount the importance of the excellently educated orders of religious women who set up the lower school system.”
The belief in civil, open discourse characterizes much of President Jenkins’ response to a seismic shift in this country’s social thinking. Unlike many of their brethren, neither Archbishop Cupich nor Jenkins condemned the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage. Cupich, in a letter, pointed out the high court had redefined civil marriage, with no bearing on the Catholic sacrament. He cautioned against discrimination—a sentiment echoed by Jenkins.
“It’s incumbent on us to articulate our views clearly and in a persuasive way, but at the same time to respect those who disagree,” he says. “That’s one of the great challenges: to nurture a more healthy exchange of ideas.”
That “exchange of ideas” turned testy in 2009 when Notre Dame invited President Barack Obama to speak at graduation. Because of Obama’s stance on abortion and embryonic stem cell research, his presence at the school caused a furor. Some Catholic bloggers and newsletter editors hurled verbal vitriol at Jenkins. More than 70 bishops condemned the Obama appearance, calling it a “scandalous decision,” as did many faculty members, students, alums, and activists. The emails, letters, and phone calls piled up and piled on.
“The backlash was greater than I expected,” admits Jenkins, who went on to explain the tradition behind the invitation. “From the very beginning, Notre Dame has always invited newly elected presidents to come and receive an honorary degree; just about every one, except for Johnson and Nixon in the ‘60s,” which corresponds to campus unrest during the Vietnam War. “I thought it was particularly important to invite the first African American president, but for a number of reasons it created a tense controversy in the Catholic community and the wider world,” he says in a calm, measured manner.
Through tough times and good, Jenkins “relies on his faith to get him through and uses it for guidance,” says his brother, Tom.
Jenkins’ quiet time, once found in the corner of a basement on 100th Street in Omaha, has moved to a chapel on the Notre Dame campus. His apartment in the Graduate Student Residence also provides solitude.
Known on campus as “Father John” or simply “JJ,” Jenkins, who’ll turn 62 in December, looks fit, lean, and youthful. He works out in the gym and takes daily walks. Exercise, he says, continues to be “an effective stress reliever.”
The recent success of the school’s storied football team also helps relieve stress. When asked if he has gotten over last season’s offensive pass interference call that cost the Fighting Irish the game against Florida State, the priest chuckles and—ever the tactful diplomat— refuses to criticize “the higher power” that is a referee.
“We were kind of thin and had some injuries, but that’s football, as anyone from Nebraska knows.” Jenkins takes pride in a great football team and in the fact the players are also serious students. “The most important thing I tell them is, ‘national championships are great, but get a degree.’”
Rev. Timothy Lannon has always been able to size up things pretty quickly. As a math major at Creighton University in the early ‘70s, the likeable young man from Mason City, Iowa, was known for his keen and analytical mind, with a head for numbers. So when he became president of Creighton in July 2011, the first alumnus to lead the Jesuit campus, he knew the numbers didn’t add up.
“We have 130 acres of land and 55 buildings with about four million square feet of space,” says Lannon in his staccato delivery. “But we only have 8,236 students total. That business model is tough to manage with such a small student body and such a large campus.”
The numbers led Lannon, in one of his first acts, to ask the Creighton trustees to scrap plans for a new building to house the business school. He suggested they renovate about one-fourth of the Harper Center For Student Life and Learning for the school’s expansion.
“Harper is a magnificent building and was underutilized,” explains Lannon, 64, who stepped down late last year as Creighton’s president. “It didn’t make sense to build a new [business school] building for $35 million and add another million-a-year in overhead.”
Thanks to a multimillion-dollar gift from Creighton business graduate Charles Heider and his wife, along with a fundraising campaign that netted $93 million to ensure future academic programs, the Heider College of Business at the Harper Center opened to great fanfare in October 2013. And it set the tone for President Lannon’s visions for Creighton’s future: maximize space, create or integrate programs, and maintain a low student-faculty ratio.
Having returned to Omaha from St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, where he served as president for eight years and oversaw the most successful capital campaign in that school’s history, Lannon sees the health sciences—a new degree in neuroscience, for instance—as the key to raising Creighton’s already prestigious profile. “We call it inter-professional education,” Lennon explains of his strategic plan. “We want to bring together our Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy programs and connect them structurally to the school of medicine, the nursing school, and the pharmacy program.”
This emphasis on a more practical course of study has induced a lively discussion among students, faculty, and staff at Creighton. Many are concerned his plan takes away from the Jesuit tradition of liberal arts and service to others. But Lannon quickly re-affirms the school’s commitment to the liberal arts, pointing out that all undergrads share a common core of classes.
Faced with a heavy debt load stemming from the university’s eastward expansion in the early 2000s and a weak economy, Lannon uses the words “consolidate,” “repurpose,” “streamline,” “renovate,” and in some cases, “cut” when addressing the school’s most pressing issues. Although known primarily for his genuine interest in people, his patented smile and larger-than-life Irish personality, Lannon has a pragmatic side he’s not afraid to show. “One thing I’ve learned about leadership is you have to make tough decisions that impact people’s lives, but you do it for the sake of the mission.”
One of the toughest decisions Lannon made was to step down from the post he loves. Not long after the new business school opened, Lannon suffered heart problems that required hospitalization. In February he announced his retirement.
“It gave me a wakeup call,” Lannon says. “Thankfully I lived to learn the lesson.” He will only say the incident he suffered is very rare and physically he’s in good shape, but “there’s a history of heart problems on my mother’s side.”
The need for less stress in his life means leaving a city and a school that, in many ways, formed him as a man, a priest, and an administrator. He arrived as a student at Creighton with plans to go on to medical school, following in the footsteps of his physician father who played football at Creighton. He became so involved on campus, even serving as student-body president his senior year, that his grade- point average dipped to 3.5. “So I applied to our medical school and I was rejected,” he admits. He could have accepted a special appointment to the med school, but “there was a haunting in the back of my mind about being a priest.”
Lannon had never thought himself holy enough to be a priest, “until I met the Jesuits,” he says with a laugh. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1977 and was ordained at Creighton in 1986, having received several master’s degrees and a doctorate from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. His first job after ordination was as president of Creighton Prep. “Talk about a learning curve,” he remembers about Prep, where he served until 1995. “I was very green but was so well mentored by three members of the board. That’s where I realized I’m able to lead at a different level.”
Now that the demands of leading an institution of higher learning are winding down, Lannon purposely finds time to reconnect with his Jesuit brethren. “I’m a Jesuit first and a president second,” he says, reflectively. He plans to go back to Harvard in the fall as part of the President-in-Residence program, working with students who want to develop their leadership skills, then travel to the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio for some spiritual renewal.
One of his proudest accomplishments, he says, was moving Creighton into the Big East athletic conference. The publicity from the success of the men’s basketball program has created new revenue streams, brought a spike in admissions, and opened a whole new market on the East Coast. Fr. Lannon came back to Creighton with innovative ideas. To its everlasting credit, the university took the ball and ran with it.
Growing up in a Catholic elementary school, we took notice of holidays with religious connections, mostly involving saints. However, as a younger child, Valentine’s Day did not seem to fit into that religious holiday category. February 14th, skipped over as a feast day by most, is originally known as St. Valentine’s Day.
St. Valentine was a Christian priest in the third century, living in Rome. The Roman emperor at that time, Claudius II, decided that single men would be more useful for fighting, not falling in love. He issued a law forbidding the marriage of any young man. Valentine would not put up with this new rule, so he began to perform marriages in secret. Unfortunately, Claudius II found out about Valentine and put him to death.
Now, Valentine’s Day is known as a holiday celebrating love. Not much is remembered about the famous martyr and even less is actually cared about. Most people see it as a day to recognize all the people that you love in your life—and especially that one special person.
For teenagers such as myself, the holiday does not take over our lives. We shouldn’t spend hours upon hours figuring out the right gift and thinking of things to say to get someone else to fall in love with us. If you happen to be in a relationship, then it is perfectly fine to get your girlfriend/boyfriend a little something, but the holiday should not be blown up to be that big of a deal. Much of the reason teenagers like to make a big deal about Valentine’s Day is to make them seem more mature, but, in a sense, they are only mocking the original intent. The holiday is meant to celebrate everyone in real love, so I think we can leave that to the adults.
With all the pink and red hearts floating around, the holiday can be pretty cheesy, but there is some good to it. For adults, it is a great day to show their love for each other. Kids, well, just stick to the hearts and candy.
Daniel Jewell is a student at Mount Michael Benedictine School.