Tuesday, October 5, 2021


He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.”

Most people will know of this saying from The Hollies’ hit by that name.

I heard a reference to the origin whilst watching a show (I have it on in the background while attending to paperwork) that can be accessed on Youtube. It is called Caught in Providence, a play on the word Court, and is a reality show about people appearing before Judge Frank Caprio on a variety of traffic and parking matters, as well as for criminal arraignments. Judge Caprio is the Chief Municipal Judge in Providence, Rhode Island and the cases and people are real. It is a world removed from Judge Judy and I challenge you not to be moved by the compassion and kindness of the man. Except for Steve, he will hate it.

In one episode he mentioned how his mother, an immigrant, had sent a donation to Boys Town after reading about the “He ain’t heavy . . .” quote, even though they themselves were impoverished.

Here is the background to the quotation and some inspirational words accompanying . . .

The Story Behind “He Ain’t Heavy…”

June 9th, 2017

By Father Steven Boes

President and National Executive Director of Boys Town

Those iconic words have symbolized the spirit of Boys Town for decades. But many people don’t know how it originated.

Back in 1918, a boy named Howard Loomis was abandoned by his mother at Father Flanagan’s Home for Boys, which had opened just a year earlier. Howard had polio and wore heavy leg braces. Walking was difficult for him, especially when he had to go up or down steps.

Soon, several of the Home’s older boys were carrying Howard up and down the stairs.

One day, Father Flanagan asked Reuben Granger, one of those older boys, if carrying Howard was hard.

Reuben replied, “He ain’t heavy, Father… he’s m’ brother.”

But the story doesn’t end there.

In 1943, Father Flanagan was paging through a copy of Ideal magazine when he saw an image of an older boy carrying a younger boy on his back. The caption read, “He ain’t heavy, mister… he’s my brother.”

Immediately, the priest was reminded of a photo of Reuben carrying Howard at a Boys Town picnic many years before. Father Flanagan wrote to the magazine and requested permission to use the image and quote. The magazine agreed, and Boys Town adopted them both to define its new brand.

Nearly 75 years later, the motto is still the best description of what our boys and girls at Boys Town learn about the importance of caring for each other and having someone care about them.

(The name has been changed to “Girls and Boys Town” to reflect its co-ed enrolment. Otto)

“He ain’t heavy” is relevant beyond Boys Town, though. At some point in our lives, most of us have needed to be carried by someone, metaphorically speaking. And, at some point, we probably carried somebody else. We’re human. We stumble. And we look to each other for help when we do.

By the way:

Spencer Tracy won an Academy Award for his portrayal of Father Flanagan in the movie Boys Town. He gave the award to the real Father Flanagan and it is on display at the museum at the site of Girls and Boys Town.

That location also has the Father Flanagan house on site, which includes a desk that the boys made for him using over 250 pieces of wood.



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