By Robert Somerville
One of the more recent additions to the range of services offered by the Irish Pastoral Centre, and perhaps one of the most significant, is the organization’s Senior Outreach Program, which celebrated its own tenth anniversary earlier this year. The IPC’s Senior Outreach Program was initiated in 2006, as a response to two tragic events which occurred within the elder Irish community. In 2006, two Irish community members died at home alone, with their bodies sadly not being found for a number of days as a result of their being so isolated. This, alongside hearing accounts from community based Nurses and Caretakers about how lonely and vulnerable many elderly members of the Irish community were, prompted Sr. Marguerite, then executive director, and Cora Flood, outreach coordinator, to take action to ensure that no elderly member of the Irish community experienced this isolation and loneliness again.
Beginning in mid-2006, the staff, supporters and volunteers of the IPC came up with various strategies to improve the resources available locally to seniors in need, especially to those seeking a culturally sensitive support system. The staff and volunteers consulted older members of the community, to see what sort of programs and services were most important from their perspective. From these beginnings, the IPC Senior Outreach Program was born. Central to the early success of the Senior Program were weekly coffee ‘drop-in’ mornings at the IPC office in Quincy, which were organized by Cora Flood alongside the support of a strong volunteer base. The coffee mornings offered a space for elderly members of the community to have the opportunity to renew acquaintances, make new friends, and participate in educational and social activities.
From the outset, the program drew vulnerable members of the community together to form a stronger peer support network which went a great distance in reducing some of the isolation being experienced. The coffee mornings are still at the heart of the IPC’s senior program today, and now include weekly meetings in Dorchester, at the IPC office, in Brighton, at the Veronica B. Smith Senior Center, and, since 2016, in West Roxbury at St. John’s Chrysostom Church. The IPC’s coffee mornings are, without doubt, our busiest regular program, and they add a great amount of energy and entertainment to the weekly schedule at the Irish Pastoral Centre.
Alongside the weekly senior meetings, the IPC organized monthly health checks with the assistance of Maria Burke of ‘Celtic Angels’, monthly day trips to sites in the Boston area such as Foxwoods Casino or the La Salette Shrine, and a monthly Mass and Irish breakfast or luncheon at the Irish Cultural Center in Canton. Each of these elements of the Senior Program helped to re-establish links with participants’ Irish heritage, history and culture, while also promoting the growth of great friendships and supportive relationships. In terms of formal supports offered by the IPC, Sr. Marguerite, Fr. John McCarthy and Cora Flood led the development of a home-visiting service to isolated and home-bound seniors that continues to this day. These visits are so valuable to those that receive them, whether the visit is for conversation, company, assistance with grocery shopping or simply to drop of the week’s edition of the Irish Emigrant newspaper.
In China, where elderly members of the community are valued for their life’s experience, knowledge and wisdom, the word for crisis contains characters that can be interpreted as both ‘danger’ and ‘opportunity’. This is demonstrative of the Oriental insight that in crisis, opportunity for progress can be found. The birth of the IPC’s Senior Program, while resulting from great crisis and tragedy, made significant progress within the elderly Irish community in the Greater Boston area. The development of this program as a response to a need within the community has made it one of the IPC’s most successful services, which impacts some of the most vulnerable members of our community.
Our senior program continues in strength today, with weekly meetings, regular health checks, monthly Masses, a check-in phone line (which we will hear more about in an upcoming article) and weekly home and hospital visits. If you know someone who might like to participate in any of our senior programming, please call us at 617-265-5300
By Robert Somerville
Over the course of the last 30 years at the Irish Pastoral Centre, we have welcomed many familiar faces to the city of Boston. One of the most popular visitors to Boston within the Irish community is former President of Ireland, Dr. Mary McAleese. On two occasions in the last ten years, the Irish Pastoral Centre has been fortunate to receive two official visits from President McAleese; once while in office, and another following the completion of her second term as President.
In 2009, the Irish Pastoral Centre held an official opening of its ‘Senior Program’, which was initiated by the IPC in 2007. It was decided to coordinate the official opening of our senior services with an official State visit to Boston by President McAleese and her husband, Martin, as Dr. McAleese had placed a focus on elder issues during her Presidency. President McAleese had previously co-sponsored the creation of a senior help-line, a program she would later introduce to the United States, via the Ashling Center in New York and eventually here at the Irish Pastoral Centre in Boston.
The official opening event of the IPC’s senior programming was held at Florian Hall on the 27th of May, 2009. Hundreds of members of the Irish community, young and old, attended the event to celebrate the development of the IPC’s services and, most importantly, to warmly welcome President McAleese to the city of Boston. Dr. McAleese and her husband, Martin, were greeted by Sr. Marguerite Kelly, then IPC Executive Director, Mark Mathers, then IPC Board Chairperson, Cora Flood, Senior Outreach coordinator and Kevin O’Sullivan, Senior Program volunteer, to name a few.
Speaking to the large crowd gathered at Florian Hall, President McAleese acknowledged the importance of community organizations, like the IPC, as meeting places for immigrants and their families. Of the IPC, Dr. McAleese communicated the appreciation of the Irish community by stating “Thank goodness there is that space that helps the Irish [to] find each other easily because we can't live without each other”.
President McAleese followed in the footsteps of her predecessor Mary Robinson, by displaying insight into the emigrant experience and acknowledging the importance of the diaspora to modern Ireland. "It's one of the great characteristics of the Irish that no matter where we are from […]once we are in a place like Boston we go to a lot of bother to establish places and spaces where we can be clans to one another, clans without frontiers, friends and families to one another.”
In 2013, the IPC reached out to Dr. McAleese to invite her to be honored at the organization’s annual banquet celebration. As a Visiting Scholar at Boston College at the time, Dr. McAleese was delighted to engage with the Boston Irish community once again, and attended the celebratory event as guest of honor. The IPC extended the invitation as an acknowledgement of Dr. McAleese’s support of the organization, the Irish community in Boston and as thanks for the work which she conducted both North and South of the border in helping mend the ‘repressed friendships’ between our island’s people.
Summer is always a busy time here in Boston, as tourists and holiday-makers from all over the world descend on the city. Amongst these summer visitors are, now iconic, young Irish students, known as ‘J-1s’ or ‘J-1ers’, here to spend the summer working and participating in a cultural exchange program. These ‘J-1s’ are now part of the fabric of Boston in the summer time, and their arrival is eagerly anticipated in early summer each year, as they help businesses fill seasonal employment posts that are often left vacant. The IPC is also busy during the summer, as we open our doors to the seasonal J-1 visitors for assistance during their time here in Boston.
The J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa Program was introduced under the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act, included in the Fulbright-Hays Act of 1961, and was signed into law by President John Fitzgerald Kennedy in 1961. Since the 1960s, hundreds of thousands of young Irish students and graduates have taken advantage of the program, spending their summer breaks in the United States gaining valuable work and life experience. The program was initiated to strengthen the United States’ foreign relations, by providing young people with the opportunity to upskill and ultimately return to benefit their home country.
In early spring, the IPC begins to receive calls and emails from young Irish people intending to travel to Boston in the summer. The staff of the IPC offers advice and information to help assist the Irish students in their preparations with securing their Visa and finding employment and accommodation. Prior to 2016, J-1s were able to travel to the U.S on their non-immigrant visa without having employment secured, however there now exists a stipulation which states that a J-1 program participant must have found employment before travelling. Even with this stipulation, many J-1s arrive without having secured employment or housing and seek support from the Irish Pastoral Centre.
While the majority of J-1 visitors have positive experiences while partaking in the program, some encounter difficulty that has a negative impact on their time in the United States. In these instances, be it a lost passport, an injury or illness, an issue with a landlord or homelessness, the Irish Pastoral Centre is there to offer support. A fine example of the IPC and the J1 community coming together in difficult occurred in 2015, when the IPC organized a mass and a dinner to support grieving J-1 students in the aftermath of the tragic balcony collapse in Berkeley, California, in which 6 J-1 visitors lost their lives.
As we reach the end of summer, we wish all of the 2017 J-1 participants well as they make their return voyages home to Ireland. We hope that all of the J-1 summer visitors had a wonderful time here in Boston, with fulfilling experiences that will contribute to their development in their work and personal lives.
By Robert Somerville
In the mid-1990s, as the young Irish immigrants of the 1980s matured and started families, a need for a peer support network for parents alongside a social space for children was recognized. ‘Playspace’, a joint initiative by the IPC and the Irish American Family association, was initiated in January 1996 as a response to this need. Over the last twenty years, the play-space has been one of the most active and consistent programs linked with the Irish Pastoral Centre.
The Irish American Family Association, a collective of young Irish immigrants seeking to support Irish families in Boston, was sponsored at the time by the Irish Pastoral Centre, operating out of the IPC office at St. Mark’s in Dorchester. The IAFA, with the support of Fr. Tim O’Sullivan, started Playspace, initially out of the Neponset Health Center, in January 1996 with a simple goal: to be a meeting place for mothers, fathers, caregivers and children. In a very short time the play-space became so much more than just a meeting place, it became an informal, community led, information and support network for Irish families in the Boston area.
The IAFA became very active in the late 90s through the 00s, organizing camps and sports days for the play-group participants in the summer months. While the IAFA no longer exists formally, the playgroup has been maintained with the support of the IPC under the leadership of former Executive Director, Sr. Marguerite Kelly. Speaking recently with Rita O’Leary-Stones and Margaret O’Donovan, both past coordinators of the playgroup, it was revealed that the relationships and networks formed within the play-space are maintained long after young children graduate as they get older. Of the IPC play-space, and the IAFA network, Margaret O’Donovan states that it was like “family not related by blood”, that supported young Irish families thousands of miles away from home, and their own family.
The IPC playgroup continues today at St. Mark’s Parish Hall, where it has been located since 1997 with the help of Fr. Dan Finn. Ashley Poles, current coordinator of the group, advises that there are in the region of twenty families who participate regularly at the Wednesday morning playgroup. While initiated as a support group for Irish families, the invitation extends far wider now to serve as a resource for all members of our local community.
By Robert Somerville
An integral part of the mission of the Irish Pastoral Centre has been to maintain links with Ireland, and the island’s rich culture, traditions and history. Many Irish people who have immigrated to the United States seek an attachment to something from ‘home’ to help ease the transition. The need for this link or attachment rarely fades, however, and this contributes to the strength and presence of Irish culture in the United States, particularly here in Boston.
The Irish Pastoral Centre has always strived to encourage this link with Ireland and its culture through our work by acknowledging the past and our homeland’s history, maintaining the presence of Irish tradition and culture ‘today’, and preserving the heritage and culture for future generations - the sons and daughters of Irish immigrants all over the world.
In 1995, to mark the 150th anniversary of Ireland’s Potato Famine, the IPC hosted an event of remembrance for those that lost their lives and those who were forced to leave their beloved homeland. This acknowledgement of a difficult part of Ireland’s history was of particular importance to Irish immigrants in America, of numerous generations, as well over one-million Irish had settled on the ‘shores of Amerikay’ in the years post-famine. The event was attended by over 500 members of the Irish community, and included a mass celebrated by the Bishop of Tuam, the Most Reverend Michael Neary.
An annual celebration of the Feast of St. Brigid’s carried through the 90s and 00s, wherein members of the Irish community would come together to commemorate one of the most important dates in the religious calendar of Ireland. The celebration would include a mass, followed by food and live traditional music. At present, throughout the year, the IPC links with the Irish Cultural Centre, another organization preserving the presence of Irish culture, to host masses in line with the traditional Celtic calendar, including the Feast of St. Brigid.
One off events, such as historical presentations around the 1916 Rising celebrations last year or gatherings for important sporting events, like Italia ’90, play an important role in preserving the link with home, and what is happening there day-to-day. Our upcoming family fun day will acknowledge Irish culture through spraoi agus sport, and the participating Irish families consistently represent the areas they have attachments to through their county colors – a point of contention due to the upcoming hurling and football finals!
St. Patrick’s Day, the central fixture of the Irish calendar all over the world, and the palaver that goes with it is often given the cold shoulder by many Irish people. Our culture and heritage is too great to be acknowledged on a single day, and it is much greater than drinking green beer or eating corned beef and cabbage! This heritage is found in the spirit of Irish people every day; in our conversation and wit, our ability to laugh and cry, through our hospitality and kindness. This is the culture and ‘Irishness’ that the IPC strives to maintain and promote through our work, to be a piece of Ireland here in Boston so that people can keep in touch with the land and culture they love so well.