In 1938 Father Tom Dunlea viewed the Academy Award winning performance of Spencer Tracy in the movie Boys Town. He was particularly inspired by the work of Father Edward Flanagan (1886-1948) on which the movie was based and he could see the increasing need for a similar program for boys in Sydney, so he set about the task of turning this vision into a reality.
Providentially, after being evicted from an old house in Sutherland for temporary accommodation (tents) at Loftus, Fr Dunlea succeeded in procuring a parcel of land in Engadine and was able to commence operations. At first, he called upon the experience of the De La Salle Brothers to assist him in implementing this enterprise.
Just after the conclusion of the Second World War, Father Dunlea organised a sea and air trip to the USA in order to visit the original site in Omaha. His intention was to meet and learn as much as he could from Father Flanagan and bring those understandings back to Engadine. On 31st May, 1946 he arrived in San Francisco on the Marine Lynx. He reported he had a comfortable trip with the exception of a rough crossing over the Tasman. He stayed two days in San Francisco and headed to Omaha by plane.
He was greeted with enthusiasm and fanfare in Omaha. He remained there for over a week before continuing his trip through the USA visiting orphanages and homes for the poor in Kansas City and later, St Louis. Father Tom continued his journey around the globe visiting his hometown in Tipperary before finally returning to Sydney. Upon his return to Engadine, he immediately commenced implementing the ideas he had gathered in Omaha and embedding them into the existing operations.
In 1952 the De La Salle brothers vacated their involvement with Boys’ Town, Engadine and headed north to QLD setting up the highly successful BT housing lotteries in the process. Cardinal Gilroy invited the Salesians of Don Bosco to assist Fr Tom Dunlea with continuing the essential work at Engadine. The energetic Fr Joseph Ciantar arrived and to this day, the Salesian presence continues to underpin the work of the current programs.
In September 2016 I was fortunate enough to visit Boys Town, Omaha and reignite the connection with the “original” program that so inspired Fr Tom Dunlea some 70 years ago. The welcome and hospitality I received was second to none. The staff were just outstanding and generous in allowing me to visit and view their programs spending enormous amounts of time explaining their philosophies and methodologies.
The original connection between Fr Flanagan of Omaha and Fr Tom Dunlea of Engadine has definitely been reignited through this visit. Dunlea Centre will continue to stay connected with Boys Town, Omaha through professional exchanges via Skype meetings and reciprocal agency visits in the future.
Throughout 2016 Dunlea Centre was able to assist well over 40 families in their endeavours to improve relationships with each other and reduce family disruptions and discord. Many of our boys and girls were able to return to mainstream schools with an increased capacity to deal with conflict and adversity. Father Tom Dunlea’s vision for supporting and guiding youth is as necessary and relevant today as it was “back in the day”.
As the year draws to a close I would like to thank our friends and supporters for their continued assistance. Besides a series of challenges that a building project can potentially present, the agency has now been substantially revitalised and refurbished. Our young people and staff have a modern environment in which to work. This could not have been achieved without your support and belief in what we do at Dunlea Centre.
We are also very excited about piloting our Hamilton Program in 2017. With the support of Schools Plus and Toyota Australia, we will pilot a transition program with the aim to support and improve the success rate for young people moving from the residential program back to mainstream, home or work.
Additionally, we will now look to begin fundraising for the old chapel within our grounds and commence developing plans to modernise and reinvent this into a living museum, preserving our history and creating a vision for the future; one that is ultimately for the continued betterment of young people. Don Bosco, founder of the Salesian order of Priests and Brothers often used the saying, “The school was not the end; it was rather the instrumental means for improving the way of life.” We will continue to strive to improve the way of life for the young people in
Paul D Mastronardi