By Robert Somerville
Immigrants to new pastures experience a range of adjustments, some more challenging than others. Immigration often brings great positive change in individuals’ lives, but this is rarely without navigating periods of difficulty directly associated with the experience of being an immigrant. One of the most difficult adjustments for migrants to make is in terms of the availability of a social network. In emigrating, people leave established networks at home and experience great isolation in arriving in new cities and countries on their own.
In the 1990s in Boston, the Irish Pastoral Centre sought to combat some of this social isolation by helping the immigrant community to establish a supportive network. Sr. Veronica, Fr. Finn and the IPC Chaplains, Fathers Burns and O’Donnell, began to organize a series of social ‘drop in’ evenings – an environment in which young immigrants could come together to socialize, play music and games, dance, and tell stories and news of home. The social evenings were designed to meet the need for a safe space for immigrants to meet that wasn’t a local pub or social club. Every Friday evening in Brighton in the early 90s, and later in Quincy, hordes of young immigrants would gather at the Irish Pastoral Centre between 7:00 PM and 11:00 PM in an environment which promoted conversation and healthy social exchange.
Through these social evenings many friendships were fostered, and partnerships formed. Liam Canniffe, Consul General to Ireland in the early 90s, spoke of the importance of the IPC social evenings in 1992, saying “even Americans who move from one city to another need time and support to adjust” and that for many young Irish immigrants from rural areas in Ireland “being left totally alone can be quite devastating”. The IPC ‘drop in’ evenings assisted the Consulate in helping meet the demands of the Irish immigrant community by reducing the presence of culture shock through socialization. The evenings supported the development of community, and as a result the young Immigrants came together to take collective action around common problems they were experiencing. The IPC, as a grassroots organization, was delighted to see young immigrants helping one another, as many new arrivals needed the support of their peers more than the formality found in structured social services like the Pastoral Centre.
Recognizing the importance of this collective action, ownership of the IPC ‘drop in’ evening was given to a ‘steering committee’ made up of participants and IPC volunteers including Cait and Tess Cotter, Helen Coyne, Kathleen O’ Donoghue, Margaret-Ann and Hillary Grant, Kathy Gilligan, Maureen Griffin, Adrian Hanley, Eileen Moran, Paraig McGailey, Eamonn Nash, and Veronica Quinn. This steering committee ensured that the ‘drop in’ evening was maintained as an informal meeting, where the spirit of openness and a warm welcome to all was consistently maintained.
Events like the Irish Pastoral Centre’s ‘drop in’ nights fostered friendships, partnerships and marriages that have lasted to this day. In the current age of technology, where social networking has been largely reduced to online encounters, many individuals are more isolated than ever. The IPC strives to maintain this warm, open welcome to all to help reduce some of the isolation experienced by so many, and we hope that the immigrant community in Boston strives for the same. We encourage all readers to reach out to their friends and acquaintances, to call or ‘drop in’ to see how they are doing. As ever, the IPC is available to all who feel they are in need of a chat or a visit – please call 617-265-5300 if you, or somebody you know is in need of a listening and supportive ear.
By Robert Somerville
Following from the success of the Irish Pastoral Centre’s educational program which took shape in 1989, Sr. Veronica noticed the desire of young Irish immigrants to further progress in their education. The IPC’s GED classes, which were led by Kathleen Sullivan, Mary Beth McDonagh and Mary Donohue, were largely designed to assist the new Irish in attaining a ‘Leaving Certificate’ or high school diploma so that they would be in a more favorable position when applying for jobs. The GED qualification, however, also allowed for these young immigrants to apply to University for the first time.
The aspiration of Irish immigrants has always been to succeed in the place that they call home and to make meaningful contributions to their communities through their professional and personal lives. The droves of immigrants who left Ireland during various periods of recession and deprivation sought opportunity abroad which allowed them to build a better life for themselves and their families. As a result, a GED qualification was only a first step for many new arrivals. Access to third level education in the United States is severely restricted, and it is an opportunity which is unfortunately reserved for the few. Sr. Veronica observed the aspirations of those who had completed their GED, and set out to remove some of the barriers which prevented them from accessing higher education.
A formal link between the IPC and a local college became a reality with the assistance of Fr. Bartley MacPhaidin between 1991 and 1993. Fr. MacPhaidin, a native of Donegal, became the first Irish born president of an American University in 1997 when he was appointed the 8th president of Stonehill College. Fr. Bartley arrived from Ireland in 1954 to study philosophy at Stonehill, after meeting a number of Holy Cross fathers in Dublin who convinced him to come and study in Massachusetts. Fr. Bartley went on to study further in Rome in Copenhagen before returning to Stonehill to teach religious studies in 1966.
Sr. Veronica and Fr. Bartley made an arrangement that provided entry level tuition to new immigrants via the Irish Pastoral Centre’s evening study site at the Sacred Heart in Quincy. This opportunity then led to a path to eventual study at Stonehill College, where immigrants could complete their Bachelor’s degree. The tuition provided by Stonehill at the IPC sites would provide the students with credits which they could use in their Bachelor’s program at Stonehill, if they so wished. Fr. Bartley, as a passionate Irish man and fluent Irish speaker, had previously been involved in the development of an in-house Irish program at Stonehill in the 1970s, which allowed for students to study abroad in Ireland at UCD, and invited Irish professors and guests to deliver lectures at Stonehill.
The link with Stonehill was a huge addition to the resources available to young immigrants, and many IPC participants went on to study at Stonehill, and other American colleges. Maisie McCann, a young Irish immigrant from Cavan, was a testament to the success of the IPC’s educational initiatives when she qualified as a nurse after graduating both from the IPC’s classes and Stonehill College.
When asked by a journalist, from the Boston Irish Reporter in 1991, what advice he could give to new young Irish immigrants, Fr. MacPhaidin stated the importance of education as ‘the key to the future’ in an ‘education-intensive’ country. With thanks to Fr. Mac Phaidin, Sr. Veronica, and countless Boston teachers and professors, young Irish immigrants were given the opportunity to access this key and, as a result, a more prosperous future in the United States.
Fr. MacPhaidin is still fondly remembered by the IPC and the immigrant community a year following his death on March 17th 2016 – RIP.
One of the most important services that the Irish Pastoral Centre has provided in the community throughout the last 30 years is employment assistance. It has been a constant need within the community, and even still as young Irish immigrants arrive to spend summers, 12 months stints, or longer, the IPC acts as a first port-of-call in their search for work. In the late 80s and early 90s, Sr. Veronica attended to almost 30 young Irish immigrants daily in their search for employment. Sr. Veronica almost always successfully utilized the immigrant network within the community to find work for new arrivals largely in the healthcare, construction and hospitality sectors.
Many of the young Irish who emigrated from Ireland in the 80s and 90s were very highly educated, but as a result of recession were unable to find work within their expertise or trade. This issue wasn’t unique to Ireland however, and many highly skilled immigrants struggled to find the work they truly desired in Boston. Tom Flatley, an Irish immigrant from Mayo who became one of Boston’s most successful business men, observed this and set out to find a solution in1993. Mr. Flatley was renowned for his generosity through his philanthropy, and was most supportive of the immigrant community and the work of the Irish Pastoral Centre.
Noticing that so many immigrants weren’t working in jobs comparable with their level of education, Tom Flatley decided to sponsor a Boston Irish Job Fair that was designed to help young people network for jobs and access career planning advice to advance their positions. To help realize the job fair, Mr. Flatley enlisted the support of the Irish Pastoral Centre, and the newly formed Irish Immigration Center. Sr. Veronica assisted in the organization and coordination, notably encouraging links between the fair and several local colleges and universities, including Stonehill College.
The first Boston Irish Job Fair was held at the John Hancock Hall and Conference Center on May 22nd 1993. The fair was attended by almost 1000 young people in search of further education and new connections. More than two dozen employers and colleges attended to assist those in search of work get a ‘leg-up’. Some of the organizations that were supportive of the efforts of Mr. Flatley and the IPC included Liberty Mutual, Filenes, Otrion Co., Biomed and the Carney Hospital. The fair was considered a great success, with hundreds of young immigrants making important links and a stronger network which bettered their careers.
The availability of a network is hugely important to the successful transition to life in a foreign country for any immigrant, and it is one of the things that new arrivals struggle with most. Significant community efforts, like the Boston Irish Job Fair, and the regular employment consultations that the Irish Pastoral Centre continues to provide, go some way in helping new immigrants adjust to life in Boston. It has often been said that Ireland’s best exports are its people, and this is especially true when each individual’s potential is tapped in to so that they can make meaningful contributions through their work and in their community.
The Irish Pastoral Centre has always been guided by the mission that solidarity and partnership utilized in the face of hardship, and the bonds of community are rooted in the very best of what it means to be Irish. The Irish, Irish-American, and wider migrant community in Boston continues to be a strong and supportive one, where this mission of solidarity and partnership is embraced. It has been through the power of this community that much positive change has been affected in the last 30 years of the work of the Irish Pastoral Centre.
In the 1990’s, the many Irish and other immigrants who received assistance from the Irish Pastoral Centre led various outreach initiatives through which they could give back to communities in greater Boston. Sr. Veronica described the waves of Irish immigrants at the time as being ‘in great spirit’, stating that there was a palpable energy, and a desire to use this energy to do positive things for their community.
The annual Lemuel Shattuck Shelter cook-out was one of these important community led outreach initiatives. Each July, members of the Irish community would come together to spend a day with the homeless community, sharing a meal together, and enjoying a sing-song and a dance. Sr. Veronica recalls that all it would take would be for one volunteer to ‘round up the others’, and there would be a full-house of eager volunteers ready to assist at the cook-out.
Regular volunteers at the Shattuck Shelter for the Homeless included Cait O’Donoghue, Cait Cotter, Veronica Quinn, James Dolan, Pat Coneely, Maureen Griffin, Barbara and Courtney Murray, Mary Corrigan, and Martin and Mary Carr. The food for the 250 guests was always generously donated by various shops and restaurants such as Lambert’s, the Brighton Stockmarket, Lynch’s Convenience, Flanagan’s Supermarket and Gerard’s in Adam’s Village.
Another community led outreach project was the IPC’s involvement with a home for vulnerable Mothers and their Babies, ‘Bridge over Troubled Waters’. This project enlisted a group of young Irish immigrants to assist at the home, taking care of the children so that the Mothers regularly had time to themselves for some much needed respite.
The Irish community has not only been generous with their time, indicated by various successful fundraising drives that have been coordinated throughout the years. One of the first coordinated fundraising drives took place in 1993, when over $3000 was raised to help relieve Somali families experiencing starvation. Paddy Dalton was one of the key members of the outreach project that helped raise this money through canvassing in bars and restaurants around the city of Boston, encouraging patrons to donate the price of a pint to the cause. Throughout the years since there has been regular canvassing for Irish aid charities, such as GOAL and Trocaire.
These initiatives are the tip of the iceberg in terms of the involvement of immigrants of all walks in supporting communities close to home and much further afield. In 2017, 30 years since the IPC opened its doors, the need for supportive partnerships in the community is greater than ever. The IPC-Boston aims to remain a fixture in the community, to help encourage this collective action and partnership which we hope will continue to challenge inequality and injustice in our society.