By Robert Somerville
While the Irish Pastoral Centre has many contributors to thank for the organization’s creation, few played as important a role in the process as Fr. John Ronaghan. Fr. John, whose family immigrated to Prince Edward Island from County Monaghan, was pastor at St. Mark’s parish in Dorchester when the need for an Irish center was first mooted. Fr. Ronaghan, now based at the Weymouth Collaborative of Immaculate Conception and St. Jerome, spoke recently of his time at the Irish Pastoral Centre.
Fr. Ronaghan was charged with assessing the need within the Irish community by the Archdiocese of Boston and the late Cardinal Law. Fr. John employed an unusual form of outreach: posting himself in the overwhelming number of Irish bars in Boston. Fr. John recalled recently, how he would meet many of the young Irish in one of Dot Ave’s twenty (plus) Irish pubs after Mass on a given Sunday. It was here that the young Irish felt most comfortable conversing and confiding. Many of the young Irish were without status, and didn’t feel safe, or welcome necessarily, congregating in traditional forums, such as Boston’s parishes.
Fr. John realized that a formal Irish support structure was required following a request from a young Irish woman to celebrate a mass in her home for her mother, who was unwell at home in Ireland. Expecting a handful of close friends and family members, Fr. John was overwhelmed when he found the house was filled to the brim with young Irish immigrants. The parishes in Dorchester were overwhelmed by the rise in immigrant parishioners in the 1980s, and the Diocese responded by creating ‘ethnic ministries’ to cope with the ethnic and cultural needs of these communities. With the support of the Archdiocese and the Consul General of Ireland, Fr. John was appointed Director of Irish Pastoral services for the Archdiocese of Boston.
The formation of the Irish Pastoral Centre followed shortly thereafter, and it was, according to Fr. John, a powerful ‘statement made by the Archdiocese’ in that these young Irish immigrants were ‘welcome here in the city of Boston’. In speaking with Fr. John recently, it was discovered that the mission of the Irish Pastoral Centre in its inception was only a temporary one; five years long, to be more specific. Fr. John realized that the Irish Pastoral Centre was to be a permanent fixture in the Boston community when ‘suitcases would arrive at 20 Roseland Street before their owners’.
The young Irish immigrants of the 1980s ‘created a sense of enthusiasm and hope’ for the immigrant experience in Boston, according to Fr. Ronaghan. The new arrivals ‘integrated well into the community’, and there was ‘visible’ progress made in terms of overcoming challenges – these were the highlights of Fr. John’s experience of starting the IPC. The sense of togetherness, particularly following crisis in the event of a tragic death, was inspiring to many, not least Fr. Ronaghan.
The creation of the Irish Pastoral Centre was a success, according to Fr. Ronaghan, due to ‘the right people being in the right place at the right time’, but this fails to acknowledge Fr. Ronaghan’s own dedication to the IPC’s creation and its cause. Without Fr. Ronaghan’s contribution, the Irish Pastoral Centre could not have materialized and served the multiple thousands of community members it has over the last thirty years.
Irish Pastoral Centre
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