Since 1854, a lot of Catholic parishes have served North Omaha. However, as the community has changed some churches have closed or merged with others, and today there are fewer in the community than ever. This is a history of the former Holy Angels Catholic parish.
Father Flanagan at Holy Angels
This is Monsignor E.J. Flanagan (1886-1948), the founder of Boys Town whose first service was at Holy Angels parish in North Omaha; and Monsignor P.A. Flanagan, the brother of Edward who founded the parish in 1910.
Maybe the best starting point for telling the history of the Holy Angels is to begin with the most famous figure associated with the parish, Father Edward J. Flanagan (1886-1948), who founded Boys Town in Omaha in 1917. It was ten years before that that Father Flanagan arrived in Omaha from his native Ireland, and just five years before when he led his first mass at Holy Family in August 1912. By 1908, the majority of his immediate family had immigrated from to North Omaha, and all lived in the same neighborhood around Holy Angels. Leaving soon after, Father Edward Flanagan would return to the parish later as a guest of his brother, Father Patrick A. Flanagan (1878-1960), the longtime priest there.
Founding A Parish
Rev. P.A. Flanagan founded the parish at North 27th and Fowler Avenue in 1910. Located in the Kenwood neighborhood, the parish served the region around North 30th and Ames Avenue, including the Monmouth Park neighborhood, the Collier Place neighborhood, the Saratoga neighborhood, the Bedford Place neighborhood, as well as others. For more than a decade before that, there had been an absence of Catholic services in this community. The Sacred Heart church was actually founded in the area, opened in 1890 in a wooden church at North 26th and Sprague Streets, but had moved away a decade later, leaving the area without a church.
Note that Omaha’s original Holy Angels Church, which was founded in 1864 on 8th Street downtown, was different from North Omaha’s Holy Angels Parish. The Sisters of Mercy started the Holy Angels School – the first Catholic school in Omaha – in 1864, also; however, it was a different school.
The first building for the parish was a temporary church that became the foundation of the official building constructed in 1919. Hiring architect James Nachtigall (1874-1947) to design the buildings, Father Flanagan started a campaign to build a parish school within a year of starting. Soon, the school was constructed next to the church on half a block, and next to the parsonage. Notable stone worker Jacob Maag (1881-1980) worked in each of the buildings, and the parish had three buildings within the first year of its founding.
According to the Omaha World-Herald, in 1929 Monsignor Flanagan was celebrating the 25th anniversary of his ordination when he was honored for being the only priest “who has organized a complete parish in every detail without any resources with which to start.”
The high point of the parish was likely right after World War II. Soldiers returning from overseas used their GI Bill to go to college and buy homes, and they contributed mightily to their local parish. It was 1948 when Pope Pius XII named Father P.A. Flanagan a domestic prelate with the title of Right Reverend Monsignor.
The Parish School
It was 1960 when Father P.A. Flanagan died. The funeral at Holy Angels was enormous, and likely the last large event held there. Over the next decade, the neighborhood surrounding the parish rapidly emptied because of white flight, with people moving to west Omaha and beyond.
The parish changed radically and diminished in size rapidly.
With room for 120 students in 12 classrooms, the Holy Family School originally served students in kindergarten through eighth grades. In 1968, the school’s attendance was greatly diminished when the archdiocese approved the usage of the building as an alternative school. Dominican High School opened there that year, and stayed open until 1981. That year, students were moved to the new Father Flanagan High School on Hamilton Street.
Demolishing a Legacy
In 1981, the church, the school and the parsonage were demolished to make room for the North Freeway. All the parishioners went to St. Richard’s, Blessed Sacrament, or Sacred Heart parishes, and the students from Dominican High School went to their new school near the freeway and Hamilton Street.
There are rumors about where the church’s artifacts went. Some people say that the stained glass windows, stations of the cross, and statues were relocated to St. Richards Catholic Church. Other people say the stained glass windows, stations of the cross, and several other pieces are now in Gretna at St. Charles Borromeo Church.
Today, there is no plaque or marker for the site, and despite some peoples’ memories, there is no formal acknowledgment by the City of Omaha of the important role this parish played in the development of North Omaha.
Holy Angels Parish Timeline
- 1910: The Church of the Holy Angels congregation begins worship with Father Patrick A. Flanagan, brother of the famous Father Edward J. Flanagan, at the Magnolia Hall at N. 24th and Saratoga Street.
- 1910: The first church building is completed at N. 28th and Fowler. The school opens the same year.
- 1912: The permanent Holy Angels school is opened at 4725 North 28th Street.
- 1920: The permanent building for the Church of the Holy Angels is opened at 4721 North 28th Street.
- 1968: The Holy Angels School closes
- 1968: Dominican High School opens.
- 1979: Holy Angels parish closes.
- 1982: Dominican High School closes.
- 1983: The church and school were demolished to make room for the North Freeway.