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.
Irish Pastoral Centre
512 Gallivan Boulevard,
Dorchester, MA 02124
Hours: Mon-Fri, 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM
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