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.
Irish Pastoral Centre
512 Gallivan Boulevard,
Dorchester, MA 02124
Hours: 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM
General Email: Info@ipcboston.org