Boys Town names Hindu as its next chairman

Boys Town names Hindu as its next chairman May 9, 2011

The legendary organization founded by Fr. Flanagan — or, Spencer Tracy, to people who remember the movie — will make history with a new non-Christian chairman:

For the first time in its 94-year history, the board chairman of Omaha-based Boys Town will be a non-Catholic. In fact, the new chairman is also non-Christian — he is Hindu.

“I think a ‘first’ is always good in the sense that there might be some stereotypes that people have about Boys Town,” said Rajive Johri, who becomes chairman next month. “This truly tells you how mission-oriented Boys Town is.”

The Rev. Steven E. Boes, national executive director, said Johri has been a valuable member of the 16-person board for four years.

“He really is an outside-the-box thinker and a great mind,” Boes said. “He’s not a rubber stamp. He pushes me a lot, which is exactly what a board member is supposed to do.”

For most of its history, the ex-officio Boys Town board chairman was the sitting archbishop of Omaha. But in 2003, then-Archbishop Elden Curtiss resigned, and the board elected its first lay chairman, John Gillin of Atlanta.

He was followed as chairman by Omaha businessmen Ken Stinson and John T. Reed. Johri, who was born in India and had served as president of the First National Bank of Omaha, will serve a two-year term as chairman.

It promises to be an important period. Boes (pronounced “Baze”) said Boys Town plans to embark on a $20 million capital campaign in hopes of adding two $10 million buildings to its main Omaha campus.

“We hope to write a new chapter in the history of Boys Town,” the priest said, “and make a large national impact.”

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19 responses to “Boys Town names Hindu as its next chairman”

  1. Sigh. I’m a native of Omaha. My grandfather, Vincent Parks, was a long-time businessmen and a friend of Fr. Flanagan. He was one of the boosters who would fundraise for Boys Town back in the early days. He remained involved with Boys Town for years, well into his old age. I remember sitting down to lunch almost every day of every summer to have lunch with grandpa and Fr. Val Peter, who was at that time Fr. Flanagan’s successor. I had free-reign in that cafeteria, and in the kitchen. I remember snagging free food made by the excellent French chef, Pierre. Fr. Peter said that my grandfather had donated so much to Boys Town over the years, we’d always eat free. I even worked in that cafeteria at the Visitor’s Center for a while to help the dishwasher, an old man going through chemotherapy for colon cancer. I remember later how Fr. Peter would send me a letter every week when I was studying at the seminary for the Omaha Archdiocese (I also remember listing Boys Town’s Dowd Chapel as my parish on the diocesan admission form, despite the fact that it is not really a chapel). I love Boys Town. I hate that in Omaha, it has a reputation as being a thorn in the side of the diocese, and vice-versa.

    All this is the rather long way of saying that I love Boys Town. I always have. As a Catholic grown-up, I look back on my days there with fondness. As a theology teacher, an orthodox one, I believe strongly that the legacy of Boys Town should remain a religious one. While it is true that Fr. Flanagan would’ve taken in a boy of any religion, even of no religion, I can’t imagine he would be pleased that his life’s work would fall into the hands of a non-Christian. I hope Mr. Johri does great things for Boys Town, but I cannot begin to imagine how this will maintain its longstanding, if somewhat secularized, Christian tradition.

  2. Same worry here. My aunt is a Sister of Charity at Convent Station NJ. Father Flanagan’s sister is at this convent. I met her a year or two ago.

  3. i think we would need more information before we can come to any conclusions. the article says that he is the Chairman of the board, that is very different than being the Director of Boys Town (whatever the title is), and who actually owns it now?. We do not know how their board of directors is set up and many other details.

    The Catholic institutions that i know use the board for help and advice in funding, and in other areas of their expertise to help the charity stay open. In these cases the board is to advise and assist the institution in its mission and help connect it with the community it serves by involving important people of the community. Then there are other agencies where the board runs the place and appoints the Director. I have no idea how things are set up in BoysTown.

    It does seems that many large Catholic institutions seem to be going the second way, whether hospitals, colleges, large charities, etc the religious order or diocese pulls out and gives all the power to the board of directors to run the place. I do not know if this is the case with Boys Town.

  4. The new chairman said, “This truly tells you how mission-oriented Boys Town.” How does this show that?

    * Is the mission to provide professional services to teens with mental health and behavioral problems?

    * Or is the mission to provide professional services to teens with mental health and behavioral problems in a manner that is consistent with the Church’s ministry to serve the least of the brethern?

    What came to be called “Social Work” and “Child Welfare” were first practiced as charity by ordinary Christians and vowed religious. It would be very sad for the Church to hand over its mission to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless and comfort and sorrowing to social work and child welfare professionals. One of the most important goals of Vatican II was to encourage the faithful to be more involved in the Church’s ministry–not to hand over ministries to secular professionals. All of us are called to practice the works of mercy.

  5. Don’t be downhearted people! We have the true faith, One-Holy-Catholic-Apostolic. Lets convert the guy!! Who will join me in a prayer crusade? Fr. Flanagan will pray with us. It will be the best thing that ever happened to Mr. Johri. +J.M.J.+ 🙂

  6. I am not saying this about the gentleman personally, just him as a non-Christian and the Christians who have placed him in power:

    “He really is an outside-the-box thinker…”

    Yes, literally.

    Boy’s Town is a Christian ministry. Christ is the box. He is our bounding box, our alpha and omega. A hindu is certainly outside the box.

    Therefore 1 Corinthians: For the word of the cross, to them indeed that perish, is foolishness; but to them that are saved, that is, to us, it is the power of God.

  7. *just to clarify my earlier statement, Dowd Chapel at Boys Town is a real chapel, not a real parish. I miss-typed.

  8. @maria Maria! Outstanding idea!!!!!!!!!! Will include our Johri friend in my Divine Mercy Chaplets tonite ! I hope he doesn’t get replaced after he is converted, though… hmmm….

  9. I like maria’s idea of prayer for the man.

    Even so, I’ll admit I’m not happy with this.
    It’s one thing to admit a person into BoysTown who doesn’t profess Catholic faith. That’s an act of charity, possibly in more ways than one. Appointing a non-Catholic to the board’s chairmanship seems to me a different matter entirely. A board chairman would normally be expected to set, enforce, or maintain the standards an organization expects to live out.

    While I don’t expect Mr. Johri to be a serious detriment to BoysTown’s efforts per se, I have little confidence that a non-Catholic will adequately understand the importance of a vigorously Catholic identity.

    Seems to me that frank fidelity to Catholic teaching will provide fundraising opportunities in a way that corporate fundraising skills likely won’t.

  10. im non catholic christian, but i know much about hinduism, it is the oldest relion of the world , all the other languages are derieved from sanskrit, ex : maatha – mother, pitha – father,
    bratha – brother. Im not feeling shy but really feel proud that the care taker is a hindu, all the best Mr. Rajeev Johri ,

  11. I had feelings similar to Rick’s at #4, both with respect to this, and when the archdiocese of Boston sold its hospitals. But I’ve had another idea, and I’m wondering if such institutions need to be specifically Catholic, i.e., under hierarchical control or oversight.

    It goes to the role of the faithful in the world. The task is much wider than creating Catholic organizations. We are called to be the presence of Christ in secular settings. We do not have Catholic grocery stores or factories. But Catholics are to bring their moral values to bear as they work in grocery stores, factories, and anywhere else. In the same way, perhaps, Catholics, and other Christians, are to “infiltrate” hospitals, child care agencies, and the like with Christian values.

    I’m not suggesting that the Church must dismantle all service agencies. As long as they are functioning adequately, there is no need to break what is fixed. But I think if we form laity who understand their call to be witnesses (with all that implies), then we need not fear a nominal secularization. And if we see a trend to secularization, it becomes urgent to form laity who will be witnesses in secular workplaces.

    BTW, I think schools are a different matter, since they are part of the urgently needed work of formation.

  12. I am a blogger at Patheos – and think that it would be helpful if you could read some of my columns to understand a bit more about Hindus and our beliefs before deciding that you want to convert or pray for Mr. Johri.
    I also think we need to determine how to live our respective faiths as Americans and still build community, where we believe in freedom of religion, especially in a world that is torn apart by the belief that my religion is better than yours. As a person of faith, I respect that others will have a path to God or spirituality that is different from mine – even two Catholics don’t have exactly the same beliefs. Think of Thomas Merton, or Fr. Hans Kung.

    Finally, by serving the common purposes we have – I work with Habitat for Humanity, for example – we can create friendships and nurture acceptance and do more good together. Quoting Corinthians, the greatest of these (faith, hope, love) is love.

  13. Padma, I admire your attempt, but this has nothing to do with being anti-Hindu. Of course I disagree with Hinduism, but I know and respect Hindus. This has to do with a Catholic-founded organization being run by a non-Christian. How can a Catholic organization fulfill its mission if the man at the helm does not share the same philosophy, worldview, or beliefs? If you knew what I know about Boys Town’s history, especially in recent years, you might have a different outlook.

  14. naturesgezt, Padma,
    I think Micah said it quite well. Fr Flanagan created Boys Town originally both as a school and an orphanage, aimed mostly at providing young men with the chance to grow into adulthood with knowledge to succeed in life, obviously with a pretty firm background in Catholic belief.
    While I have no desire to disparage the role of the laity in the Church, neither do I wish to see the role of the hierarchy diminished needlessly. I don’t think Boys Town needs an ordained priest as it’s chairman per se, nor a bishop, but I DO think it quite reasonable to expect this Catholic institution to be headed by a Catholic.

    It’s true enough that people who come from different walks of life will share numerous common values, common goals, and so forth, and should work together wherever possible to achieve those goals within the community.
    But if I may be so bold…Americans have been doing THAT since well before the Revolution. I see no reason why we should make believe that we need to institutions of one faith tradition to be headed by members of another.
    Or, to put it more helpfully: Why would the membership of the Catholic faith eagerly propose placing a Hindu in charge of a Catholic institution when any sensible Hindu or Jew would likely think three times before placing a Catholic at the head of a Hindu or Jewish organization?

    Very likely, if either of those did so, it’s spark some comment, just as this appointment is raising some concerns with us Catholics. I’d say this is quite reasonable.

    As for whether we ought to learn more about Hinduism or pray for Mr. Johri’s conversion, well, I don’t wish to be crude, but I think we can say this:
    Padma, who I’ll assume to be a routinely practicing Hindu, and intending to remain a Hindu, most likely has as much interest in learning more about Catholicism as I have in learning more about Hinduism. Therefore, I see no cause for why I’d take time to learn more about Hinduism than I already know.
    Ultimately, I don’t buy the notion of all faiths more or less merging into one, worldwide faith, nor anything remotely alike to it. I know Edith Stein sought something similar for the Jewish people relative to the Catholic faith, but I doubt if the Jewish people and the Catholics can truthfully honor their own faith traditions properly and still pay so much attention to the others’ faith. We don’t have time to celebrate every person’s faith in our own lives, so it becomes a matter of priority: What beliefs and values do we most wish to celebrate?

    If I read my Bible, I understand Christ to have said pretty plainly that we should go out into the world and preach the Good News. I also understand from my own knowledge of Catholicism that while Hindu ideals–or faith, if it’s referred to in that manner–may have similar proposals, Hindu faith and Catholic faith are not the same now, never have been before, and most likely will not be in the future.

    Therefore, I’m morally obligated to pray for the conversion of EVERY man to Catholic faith. Including Mr. Johri, or you, Padma. (In this case, “man” referring to a human being, regardless of gender.)

    PS. I’m afraid I know entirely too little of Merton to comment on what he said. I have HEARD entirely too much from Mr. Kung, though, to my regret.
    I have no interest in practicing an ideal that doesn’t lead me or another man to God.

  15. Well, thanks to the liberals in the church, they’ve done it again. I have nothing against the new chairman personally, what I object to is the fact that a Catholic organization, that is SUPPOSED to be teaching Catholic doctrine is going to be run by someone who doesn’t believe. Those who put him there, those who continue to water down the cathoic faith- why don’t they just go and start their own church and leave the Roman Catholic Church ALONE??

  16. No one needs to worry about a Hindu as Boys Town Chairman of the Board. Father Flanagan worked with people of every religion and of no religion in his work for good of the community and for the good of the children he was trying to help. His first great collaborator, advisor, attorney and friend was Henry Monsky, a Jewish lawyer who became his friend and confidante and whom he considered the co-founder of Boys Town. Father Flanagan recognized that there are people of good will in every segment of society, and he always welcome a helping hand wherever he could find.

    Father Clifford Stevens
    Boys Town, Nebraska
    and 1944 graduate of Boys Town.

  17. Father Flanagan not only reached out to boys of every race, color, religion and ethnic background, but he worked with people of every religion and every race and color to face the youth problems of Omaha and the country. His first great collaborator and friend was Henry Monsky, whom he had known since Monsky was a high school student and Central High School in Omaha, and whom he always considered the co-founder of Boys Town. This religious, racial and ethnic variety of Boys Town has been its hallmark and it strength and the new chairman of the board will add a new dimension and a new voice to the never-ending history of Father Flanagan’s dream.

    Father Clifford Stevenss
    Boys Town, Nebraska

  18. At the beginning of his work, Father Flanagan set up a board of Catholics, Protestants and Jews to carry on his work for youth, and if he were alive today, he would be sure that people of every race, religion and ethnic background were involved in his work. His work was humanitarian, rather that strictly religious, even though his work was based on the Catholic vision of “loving your neighbor as yourself”. Boys Town today, in keeping with Father Flanagan’s vision of his work, is open to boys and girls of every race, religion and ethnic backgrouind and each boy and girl is encouraged to futher and follow their own religion. In the beginning, because of the social variety in the United States at the time, Boys Town was open to Catholic, Protestant and Jewish youth, and to boys of every race, color and ethnic background, but with the variety of religious and racial backgrounds in the United States today, boys and girls of other racial and religious backgrounds will undoubtedly become citizens of Boys Town. Before he died, Father Flanagan was looking to founding Boys Towns in other parts of the world, and his work did inspire others to found similar institutions in Italy, South Africa, Japan, having no institutional connection with Boys Town itself. Although Boys Town was the work of a Catholic priest, its was founded to reach out to youth of every race, color and creed, and that was posted on the masthead of Father Flanagan’s letterhead from the very beginning.

    Father Clifford Stevens
    Boys Town, Nebraska.

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