Bringing Boys Town to Rome
Omaha chaplain Fr. Ryan Lewis is leading Fr. Flanaghan’s cause for canonization . . .
Father Ryan P. Lewis
Raised on a farm outside Omaha, 38-year-old Fr. Ryan P. Lewis was called to the priesthood early and ordained at 25. The canon law expert served as archdiocesan vice chancellor before becoming pastor of St. Thomas More in Omaha. His favorite part of the parish job is the school, where he teaches junior-high religion. Perhaps it’s no wonder he was chosen to lead the tribunal paving the path for the canonization of Boys Town founder Fr. Edward Flanagan, another priest devoted to the young.
Tell us about your call to the priesthood.
I had an early vocation. For me it was really asking the question, “OK, I’ve been told there are qualities in me to be a good priest, but is it for me?” So I went to college seminary right out of high school, where I learned how to pray and discern. After that I went to the North American College. Cardinal Timothy Dolan was rector all my five years. He had an enormous influence on me — the joy with which he lives his priesthood, his zeal for bringing folks to the faith and re-energizing those already in it. When I was vice chancellor, one hat I wore was media relations. I followed his approach to dealing with the media: be open and engage them, never be afraid.
How did you become acquainted with Legatus?
About 10 years ago George Weigel addressed the chapter. I’ve known George since my days in Rome, and the Legatus folks were kind enough to invite me to his talk. I was impressed. Later I met Tom Monaghan when I was studying canon law at the Catholic University of America — another positive encounter with Legatus. Two years ago our original chaplain got reassigned outside the archdiocese. When Archbishop George Lucas asked me to serve, I immediately accepted.
What impact has Legatus had on the archdiocese?
I can cite two examples of us having an impact this year alone. First, we co-sponsored an event with Creighton University Students for Life — a talk by Shawn Carney, co-founder of 40 Days for Life. We also met at a Planned Parenthood clinic, where I led everyone in an hour of prayer. There are a lot of local Catholic efforts to protest abortion prayerfully and peacefully, and I thought it was important for Legates to get involved. They’re pro-life, of course, but it was the first time most of them were out there on the front lines.
How do you approach your role as chaplain?
I bring a working-class, football-coach-type mentality to my chaplaincy. I stress the fundamentals: prayer, Mass, Confession, devotions like the rosary and reading Sacred Scripture. I really try to challenge them.
You have a vocation, of course. Any avocations?
I love to play golf. It’s my favorite thing to do when I get a day off. I’ve played with members of Legatus. I also love to walk and read. Right now I’m reading a biography of Fr. Edward Flanagan, Father Flanagan of Boys Town: A Man of Vision.
That wouldn’t be a random selection, would it?
Nope. On March 17, Archbishop Lucas formally opened Fr. Flanagan’s cause for canonization and named him Servant of God. He commissioned a tribunal to look into Fr. Flanagan’s life and writings with an eye toward sending the findings to Rome as a way to kick off the process that we hope leads to his canonization. He appointed me head of the tribunal. It’s very exciting but very daunting. Aside from examining his voluminous writings — mostly correspondence and articles — we have almost 200 folks to interview, and that number could grow. It’s a very thorough process, so it’s hard to predict when we’ll finish.