In 1917, Father Flanagan, a Catholic priest, founded an orphanage for boys in Boys Town, Nebraska. It was known as ‘Father Flanagan’s Home for Boys’ (it was changed to Boys Town and it’s now open to girls as well). A year later, Howard Loomis was abandoned there by his mother. He had polio and wore heavy leg braces. Walking was incredibly challenging, especially when going up or down the stairs. Before long, Howard had help from several of the Home’s older boys who would take turns to carry him on their backs.
One day, Father Flanagan asked one of the older boys, Reuben, if carrying Howard was hard. He replied, ‘He ain’t heavy, Father…he’s m’ brother’. In 1943, Father Flanagan came across a drawing of an older boy carrying a younger boy on his back with a similar caption, ‘He ain’t heavy mister, he’s my brother’. It reminded him of Reuben. With the magazine’s permission, Father Flanagan used the image, captioned, ‘He ain’t heavy, Father, he’s my brother’, to define its new brand.
Decades later, both the image and motto have been kept because they clearly represent the core value Boys Town seek to impart to their residents, that of caring for each other and having someone care about them.
There is a movie featuring Spencer Tracy based on the story of Boys Town. The story has also inspired a worldwide hit for the ‘Hollies’ in 1969. I love the ballad!
‘He ain’t heavy, Father, he’s my brother’ is more than just a great slogan for Boy’s Town. It describes our Lord Jesus, our older brother, according to the author of the book of Hebrews. “In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers” (Heb 2:10-11)
Can you picture Jesus as your older brother who is only too glad to carry you on his back? And when you know he has your back, you don’t need to look over your shoulder! His shoulders are big enough to carry you and your burdens. He invites us to cast our cares on him because they will wear you out if you don’t! “Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you; He will never permit the righteous to be moved” (Ps 55:22). “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28). “Can anyone of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matt 6:27).
“Jesus, our older brother and faithful burden bearer, increase our faith in you!”