President Mary Robinson, Mayor Ray Flynn, Nicholas Robinson and Fr. Jerry O'Donnell at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in 1991
By Robert Somerville
In 1991, during the first year of her Presidency, Dr. Mary Robinson visited Boston as part of a wider tour of the United States. The reach of Dr. Robinson’s visit was expansive, including stops in California, Illinois, New York, and Rhode Island, with a mission that was largely directed at engaging the Irish diaspora in the United States. Dr. Robinson revitalized the office of President of Ireland during her Presidency, changing a position that was viewed as a suitable ‘retirement’ for career politicians into a vibrant and busy office. In her Presidency, Dr. Robinson projected an image of an Ireland that was open, tolerant and modern – a huge shift from the traditional image of Ireland that was known around the world.
During Dr. Robinson’s campaign for her Presidency she stated that she wanted to be a President ‘for all’, including the diaspora and the Irish abroad who had been largely ignored by past administrations. President Robinson acknowledged the then 70 million abroad who claimed Irish heritage and the countless millions of emigrants that were forced from Ireland’s shores as members of an ‘extended family’, who were always welcome home. In the window of the Áras an Uachtaráin, the President’s residence in Ireland, Dr. Robinson placed a light to guide all of Ireland’s exiles home, a powerful and poignant move that showed that those who left Ireland had not been forgotten.
In Boston, President Robinson engaged with the diaspora at various events, including at a mass organized with the assistance of the Irish Pastoral Centre at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the South End. The mass was celebrated by Cardinal Law, alongside the IPC chaplains, including Fr. Jerry O’Donnell, and was attended by then Mayor, and supporter of the IPC, Ray Flynn. At various trade and corporate engagements, President Robinson continued to bring attention to the experiences of immigrants, and the “excellent work of the Irish Pastoral Centre in supporting so many [of these] Irish immigrants”. President Robinson continued to bring attention to the experience of, and relationships with, immigrants throughout her Presidency and in her work with the UN. In 2017, Dr. Robinson visited Boston and the staff of the IPC once again, and still, after all these years, she is still committed to championing the rights of immigrants and the Irish diaspora. During her address to students at Boston College in 2017, Dr. Robinson again lauded the work of Fr. Dan Finn and the IPC in serving the needs of immigrants in the community.
The support of President Robinson has been of significant importance to the immigrant Irish community, especially in the wake of uncertain political climates. “The community of Irish interest and talent and memory extends far beyond our boundaries”, stated President Robinson during an address on Irish identity in 1992, and it is this mission that continues to guide the work of the Irish Pastoral Centre as a ‘parish without boundaries’ in our 30th year.