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'Without Father Flanagan, I'm not here': Park City Irish pub a tribute to famous priest who saved owner's grandfather

First Published      Last Updated Mar 23 2017 04:22 pm


Park City pub » Establishment’s namesake, a Catholic priest, took in a homeless boy in the early 1900s whose grandson would later honor his legacy by offering Irish fare in a Utah town.

Park City • Of all the Irish pubs in America named Flanagan — many for Edward J. Flanagan, who founded the Boys Town home for troubled youths ­in 1917 — Flanagan's on Main may have the closest connection to the famous Catholic priest.

Owner John Kenworthy says his grandfather was one of the first homeless boys the Irish-born priest took under his wing in the early 1900s in Nebraska.

"Without Father Flanagan, I'm not here," said Kenworthy, who has a tribute room inside his Park City pub that showcases the family's history with Flanagan.

Black-and-white photos, newspaper clippings and an autographed photo of Flanagan hang around a large booth and its picture window that looks onto Main Street. The pub — which has several Irish specialties on the menu, including corned beef and cabbage, Irish stew and three boxty options — will be a popular spot this weekend for St. Patrick's Day. (What's a boxty? Find out here.)



Kenworthy said his grandfather, Charles Kenworthy, as a young homeless boy, traveled the rail line, begging and swindling for spare change and causing heartburn for the Union Pacific management.

Around the same time, Flanagan was trying to start an orphanage for troubled boys in Omaha, Neb. The railroad heard of his quest and offered to support Flanagan if he could reform mischievous runaway Charles Kenworthy.

Flanagan took the boy in, coached him in oration, and for two years they traveled the country giving speeches to raise money for the orphanage.

Charles Kenworthy "spoke at numerous meetings and gatherings and shared his own personal experiences at the Home in glowing and emotional terms," according to "Father Flanagan of Boys Town: A Man of Vision," a historical book published in 2008 by Boys Town Press.

"Many an audience, having heard the 'boy orator,' rose and cheered and then emptied their pockets," the authors wrote.

Over time, Flanagan created a traveling minstrel show bringing on more boys as singers, dancers and comedians, with Charles as the emcee.

The show would stop twice year in Park City, performing at the Federal Bandstand across the street from where Flanagan's is now, said John Kenworthy, pointing to a 1924 photo from one of the shows. He learned of the connection after buying the building at 438 Main St. about 12 years ago.

When Charles became old enough, Flanagan encouraged the young man to become a priest. And while Charles spent some time at the seminary, "my grandfather eventually ditched the priesthood to marry my grandmother," said Kenworthy. Flanagan was initially furious, but forgave quickly.

Later, Flanagan sent Charles to California to help with the 1938 biographical film "Boys Town," featuring Spencer Tracy and a young Mickey Rooney. The film earned four Academy Award nominations and two Oscars, including a best actor trophy for Tracy.

Flanagan died in 1948, but the Archdiocese of Omaha has been working for more than a decade to attain his sainthood designation. Supporters completed their investigation into the beatification and canonization of the priest in 2015 and forwarded findings to the Vatican for review. While leaders in Rome are investigating Flanagan's life and the potential miracles attributed to him, canonization can take years.

After his Hollywood experience, Charles Kenworthy decided to stay in Hollywood, taking a job in the sound studios at MGM. He raised his family and lived the rest of his life in California, said Kenworthy, who remained close to his grandfather until his death in 2000.

John Kenworthy said it was serendipity years later when he met his wife, Nancy, a Tooele native. After the couple moved to Utah, they, along with business partners, bought the Main Street building to open an Irish Pub. There was never any debate about the name.

"I wanted to honor this man who did wonderful things," Kenworthy said. "He took this homeless boy, who had gone through a lot of rough times, and earned his trust."

kathys@sltrib.com

 

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