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.
By Robert Somerville
One of the Irish Pastoral Centre’s longest running programs is the Irish prisoner visitation program. This program was initiated in the mid-90s by Fr. Ted Linehan, then chaplain at the IPC, to provide support to Irish individuals detained in New England’s prisons, and to those navigating the judicial system. In many cases, Irish individuals who find themselves in criminal proceedings lack the support of family and friends during both their court hearings, and time spent in prison. Imprisonment is a very isolating and intimidating experience, and having the physical and emotional support of a chaplain, social worker, volunteer or friend can be of significant benefit.
Over the course of the last twenty years, the Irish Pastoral Centre has assisted over 20 Irish men and women in long term incarceration throughout New England in its State and Federal prisons. Including those placed in short term detention, often undocumented immigrants picked up on Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainers, the IPC has assisted countless numbers of imprisoned Irish immigrants. The program, initiated by Fr. Ted Linehan, has been led throughout the last twenty years by Sr. Veronica Dobson, Sr. Marguerite Kelly, Fr. Jimmy Kelly, Fr. John McCarthy, and now Fr. Dan Finn, however, the most important asset to the program are its dedicated volunteers, namely Denis Moynihan.
Denis Moynihan, a native of Dromtariffe in Co. Cork, has been an intrinsic part of the IPC’s prison visitation program since being encouraged to participate by his cousin, Fr. Ted Linehan in 1997. Since his first introduction to supporting Irish prisoners, Denis has been a constant fixture within the program, supporting multiple Irish individuals for the duration of their time in Boston area prisons. Over the course of his twenty years volunteering in the program, Denis has built meaningful relationships with Irish prisoners through time spent in visiting rooms, sharing news from home, liaising with family members, providing a supportive ear – by being a friend. Denis regrets the assumption that ‘everyone who is behind bars is a bad person’, stating that there are ‘some very good people behind prison walls’ if they are given them the time of day. Denis acknowledges the difficult circumstances under which he comes to build these relationships, but speaks of the importance of a single positive encounter on the life of someone in prison. Denis also supports Irish prisoners’ family members if they ever make trips to the U.S. to visit their loved one, helping them to settle in Boston and navigate the complicated visiting procedures in the area prisons.
Being imprisoned is a ‘tough position’, states Denis, even without being thousands of miles away from home, friends, and families. The support offered by Denis, and the IPC Prison Visitation Program, goes a small way in ameliorating some of the difficulty experienced by Irish prisoners. In our 30th year, Denis would like to see more people come on board with the IPC’s prison visitation program, as he feels it can change people’s lives for the better – rewarding both prisoner and volunteer. Of their relationships with Denis, Irish individuals in prison have described him ‘like family’; a compliment of the highest order for a man that has given so much to the IPC and to the Irish community in the Boston area, and a true testament to the effect of his relationships with imprisoned Irish men and women. Go raibh maith agat, Denis.
By Robert Somerville
Strength is often found in numbers, and this is most true in the context of responses to the immigrant experience here in the United States. In the 1980s and 1990s the situation for Irish immigrants in the U.S. was at crisis point, with legal immigration from Ireland essentially an impossibility and with most immigrants under the age of 30 being ‘out of status’, or undocumented. The task at hand was too great for responses in isolation, and this was understood not least by the Consulate of Ireland and its Consul General at the time, Brendan Scannell. The Irish Pastoral Centre was ultimately borne of the meeting of Brendan Scannell with community leaders, immigration reform advocates and members of the Archdiocese of Boston. One of the most important participants in these meetings was the Massachusetts Division of the Ancient Order of Hibernians and it’s State Board Chairman of Immigration, Jack Meehan.
The Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) was founded in 1836 as a response to the threat faced by Catholic Churches, members of the clergy, and Irish immigrants from ‘American Nativists’. Since the organization’s inception it has been charged with a primary mission: to work on behalf of newly arrived immigrants from Ireland by providing friendship, advice and support. The support offered to Irish immigrants by the AOH has been wide ranging, including influential political and social activism and advocacy. In the political arena, the AOH utilised its wide ranging network to put pressure on legislators. An example of the importance of their support was demonstrated in the passage of the Donnelly (NP5) and Morrisson (AA1) Visa programs in 1989 alongside the Irish Immigration Reform Movement.
Jack Meehan, now National President Emeritus of the AOH in America, was instrumental in the beginnings of the Irish Pastoral Centre and he has maintained his support for Irish immigrants in America over the last 30 years. In his position as Massachusetts Board Chairman of Immigration, Jack spearheaded progressive change in respect of immigration and the immigrant experience and he continued to press the issue in his two terms as National President of the AOH in America. In 2011, Jack was awarded the ‘Golden Bridges’ award by the Irish Echo in Boston, recognising his more than thirty years advocating for the undocumented. Without the support of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, and Jack Meehan, one of the IPC’s most important early programs might never have been realised.
In partnership with the AOH and Consul General Brendan Scannell, the IPC led a significant fundraising effort in 1989. This fundraising effort not only secured the short term future of the Centre, but also allowed for the implementation of a ‘hardship fund’. This hardship fund was significant for many Irish immigrants who found themselves and their families in difficulty. The fund was designed to meet an immediate short term financial need, such as rent, heating and electricity costs, and repatriation in the event of an emergency. The AOH received applications to the hardship fund, which were then referred to Sr. Veronica and the chaplains at the IPC for assistance. While there was no legal obligation to return the financial aid, applicants understood that in returning the assistance, where possible, would allow for the fund to go further and help more immigrant families in need.
The IPC Hardship Fund operated for a number of years, up until the mid 1990s, helping countless Irish immigrants in a very practical way. The assistance of the AOH in advancing and operating the fund, and also in founding the IPC, was instrumental, and without it many individual’s immigrant experience would not have been as successful. Jack Meehan extends his, and the AOH’s “sincere thanks to the dozens of groups and hundreds of individuals who could be counted on to extend the hand of friendship in so many ways to [their] efforts on behalf of the undocumented Irish community”. The IPC mirrors this thanks, and also expresses our gratitude to Jack Meehan and the Ancient Order of Hibernians for their continued support.
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.
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.