Fr Jesús Silva was still a seminarian in 1956 when he came to the aid of 15 boys who had been orphaned or abandoned and found refuge for them in his mother’s house. Inspired by the 1938 film Boys Town” which he had seen as a child, and by a Marxist interpretation of the Gospels, he established the Ciudad de los Muchachos, or Boys Town, on property outside Ourense purchased for him by his brother, a lawyer.
“Change was the fundamental element of our teaching,” he told the newspaper Diario de Navarra in 2009. “The idea was to change a world that we were dissatisfied with. We said, ‘Another world is possible.’ ”
The self-sufficiency and self-rule of the original Boys Town in Nebraska, which evolved from an orphanage founded by Fr Edward Flanagan in 1917, provided a model. At the Spanish charity’s property, Benposta, Fr Silva built residences and schools to train the boys, as young as 4 and as old as 20, in a trade or profession.
Adults were assigned a supporting role. The children governed the town, electing their own mayor and cabinet, and voting on decisions in a two-house legislature. The town had its own police force and municipal officials, as well as a bakery, grocery store and printing press. It even had its own currency.
Because one of Fr Silva’s uncles was a circus promoter, he was a circus chaplain. In 1963 he created the International Circus School at Benposta, which trained El Circo de los Muchachos, billed as “a circus for kids performed by kids.”
The Spanish Boys Town, also known as Boys Nation since the 1960s, came into conflict with Galicia’s regional government, which wanted to build a football stadium on its property. It closed in 2003.
Jesús Silva, Priest Who Founded Spanish Boys Town, Dies at 78 (New York Times)