By Robert Somerville
There are few figures as important to the history of the Irish Pastoral Centre as Sr. Veronica Dobson. Sr. Veronica, a Brigidine Sister who hails from county Offaly in Ireland, is the IPC’s longest serving Director – spending 17 years immersed in the Boston Irish community. Sr. Veronica retired from her assignment with the IPC-Boston in 2004, returning to San Antonio, Texas, where she continues to work with immigrant and refugee groups. I spoke recently with Sr. Veronica, to reflect on her time with the IPC, and to hear some of her memories and stories of the center’s first 30 years.
When the call came for assistance with a new Irish outreach project, Sr. Veronica was in the midst of a sabbatical at the Weston School of Theology in Boston. Prior to this sabbatical, Sr. Veronica had spent twenty years on a teaching assignment in Wisconsin. When Sr. Veronica was asked to join this Irish outreach effort in Boston, there was no job description or office. Sr. Veronica had little knowledge of the nature of the assignment with the IPC, and what her work with the Irish community would entail, but she was most welcoming of the challenge and arrived permanently in the summer of 1988 to begin her stay with the IPC in Boston.
Sr. Veronica immersed herself in the Irish community from her first day based at St. Mark’s parish in Dorchester, always listening attentively for Irish accents. Within a month of her arrival, over 100 young Irish immigrants were assisted in their adjustment to life in the U.S. For the first number of years, Sr. Veronica was the only full-time member of staff assisted by dedicated volunteers. Mary Dianne Hayes offered pro bono legal assistance, and Ann Gargan, a cousin of the Kennedy family, helped with the administration of the tiny office at St. Mark’s parish. Sr. Veronica recalled that at the opening of the IPC office at St. Mark’s, there was room ‘only for [herself] and the Cardinal’! This office was visited by up to 30 young Irish immigrants daily in the first years of the IPC, and the lack of space didn’t detract from the dedication to working with the Irish and Irish American community.
Sr. Veronica speaks fondly of the sense of community between the Irish immigrants in Boston at the time, and the commitment to giving back to both the organization and the city ‘in good spirit’. There were many volunteer led efforts in the 1980’s and 90’s including an annual cookout for the homeless, a mother’s support group and regular fundraising for Trocaire, an Irish ‘international aid’ charity. Important to these efforts were Cait Cotter, Caroline Sullivan and Mark Mathers, to name a few. According to Sr. Veronica, without this support, and the ability of members of the Irish community to ‘round up the others’, the IPC-Boston couldn’t have been as effective as it was in serving the immigrant community.
Over the 17 years she spent in Boston, Sr. Veronica experienced great highs and lows. The best moments for Sr. Veronica were those in which she ‘helped people get on with their lives’ by assisting them through difficulties they might have been experiencing. In Sister Veronica’s time with the IPC, some Irish sadly returned home in coffins as a result of ill-health or, in some cases, suicide and these were the times that she, and the community, found most difficult. ‘No matter how hard things [get], there is always hope’ – that was the message that Sr. Veronica tried to share with the immigrant community in Boston, and it is a message she continues to share today.
Sr. Veronica helped thousands of immigrants from all over the world in their adjustment to life in America, and of her 17 years working in Boston ‘[she] enjoyed every minute!’. Whether assisting with employment and housing, or providing emotional and spiritual support, Sr. Veronica guided people on their path to a greater future. This is what ‘kept [her] going’ throughout her time with the IPC-Boston, that there was always someone in need of support or guidance and this mission continues to guide the work Irish Pastoral Centre in our 30th year.
Irish Pastoral Centre
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