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.
This week, we take a break from our linear exploration of the Irish Pastoral Centre’s history to speak with the legendary Kathleen Rohan, a departing member of the IPC’s staff who has made a huge impact within the Irish and Irish American communities in her almost 10 years with the Centre. Anyone who knows the Irish Pastoral Centre in its current form will be familiar with Kathleen, her good spirit, positive energy, and one-of-a-kind sense of humor.
Kathleen has been a constant fixture within the Irish community in Boston since her arrival from Cork in 1989, having been heavily involved with the GAA, the ILIR and, of course, the IPC throughout the intervening 18 years. Kathleen began volunteering regularly with the IPC-Boston in the 1990s, when members of her family became involved with the center’s Mother & Toddler playgroups. Appreciative of the work of the IPC within Boston, Kathleen volunteered as a way of ‘giving back’ to the community via the work of the Pastoral Centre. Kathleen took giving back to a new level in 2007, when she began working with the IPC as office manager.
Throughout her near 10 years with the IPC-Boston, Kathleen has fulfilled almost every role within the organization at one time or another, and occasionally all at once! In non-profit work, Kathleen says ‘You give it your all, and change your hat many times’, and while there have been challenging moments, she has enjoyed every day working with the Irish community. Kathleen says that ‘[she has] enjoyed the variety of work and people’ that she had the opportunity of meeting, and she will miss her interactions with members of the community the most.
Of the Irish and Irish American communities in Boston, Kathleen speaks of the importance of partnership and support, especially in times of hardship. This is one of the traits of the Irish American community that Kathleen admires most, the ability of people to come together to help one-another through any difficulty. Kathleen, like many, has been on the receiving end of this community support, and for this she is eternally grateful.
During the last 10 years at the Irish Pastoral Centre, Kathleen has been one of the few constants. In her time she has seen many faces come and go - most recently Fr. Finn, who Kathleen feels fortunate to have seen ‘come full circle’ in returning to work with the migrant community via the IPC-Boston. Kathleen will miss her colleagues, and thanks them for their support and friendship over the years, particularly Sr. Marguerite Kelly, Fr. John McCarthy and Kieran O’Sullivan.
When asked about highlights, Kathleen recalls the visits to the IPC-Boston by President Mary McAleese and Mickey Harte. These visits were inspiring for Kathleen personally and professionally, with Mickey Harte providing his wisdom of ‘family, friends, faith and football’, and President McAleese as a ‘progressive woman who changed with the times and needs’. The true highlight, however, was the interaction with the community on a daily basis through her work. The importance of the IPC-Boston, according to Kathleen, as a fixture in the heart of the Irish American community is significant in promoting a sense of togetherness that we need now more than ever.
On behalf of all the staff and volunteers of the Irish Pastoral Centre, and the countless members of the migrant community who have received assistance from Kathleen, Fr Dan. Finn would like to extend his thanks and appreciation to Kathleen. She will be sorely missed by the staff, volunteers and our service users, but we extend our warmest wishes to Kathleen as she moves on to the next chapter of her journey - Go n-éiri an bothar leat.
By Robert Somerville
There are few figures as important to the history of the Irish Pastoral Centre as Sr. Veronica Dobson. Sr. Veronica, a Brigidine Sister who hails from county Offaly in Ireland, is the IPC’s longest serving Director – spending 17 years immersed in the Boston Irish community. Sr. Veronica retired from her assignment with the IPC-Boston in 2004, returning to San Antonio, Texas, where she continues to work with immigrant and refugee groups. I spoke recently with Sr. Veronica, to reflect on her time with the IPC, and to hear some of her memories and stories of the center’s first 30 years.
When the call came for assistance with a new Irish outreach project, Sr. Veronica was in the midst of a sabbatical at the Weston School of Theology in Boston. Prior to this sabbatical, Sr. Veronica had spent twenty years on a teaching assignment in Wisconsin. When Sr. Veronica was asked to join this Irish outreach effort in Boston, there was no job description or office. Sr. Veronica had little knowledge of the nature of the assignment with the IPC, and what her work with the Irish community would entail, but she was most welcoming of the challenge and arrived permanently in the summer of 1988 to begin her stay with the IPC in Boston.
Sr. Veronica immersed herself in the Irish community from her first day based at St. Mark’s parish in Dorchester, always listening attentively for Irish accents. Within a month of her arrival, over 100 young Irish immigrants were assisted in their adjustment to life in the U.S. For the first number of years, Sr. Veronica was the only full-time member of staff assisted by dedicated volunteers. Mary Dianne Hayes offered pro bono legal assistance, and Ann Gargan, a cousin of the Kennedy family, helped with the administration of the tiny office at St. Mark’s parish. Sr. Veronica recalled that at the opening of the IPC office at St. Mark’s, there was room ‘only for [herself] and the Cardinal’! This office was visited by up to 30 young Irish immigrants daily in the first years of the IPC, and the lack of space didn’t detract from the dedication to working with the Irish and Irish American community.
Sr. Veronica speaks fondly of the sense of community between the Irish immigrants in Boston at the time, and the commitment to giving back to both the organization and the city ‘in good spirit’. There were many volunteer led efforts in the 1980’s and 90’s including an annual cookout for the homeless, a mother’s support group and regular fundraising for Trocaire, an Irish ‘international aid’ charity. Important to these efforts were Cait Cotter, Caroline Sullivan and Mark Mathers, to name a few. According to Sr. Veronica, without this support, and the ability of members of the Irish community to ‘round up the others’, the IPC-Boston couldn’t have been as effective as it was in serving the immigrant community.
Over the 17 years she spent in Boston, Sr. Veronica experienced great highs and lows. The best moments for Sr. Veronica were those in which she ‘helped people get on with their lives’ by assisting them through difficulties they might have been experiencing. In Sister Veronica’s time with the IPC, some Irish sadly returned home in coffins as a result of ill-health or, in some cases, suicide and these were the times that she, and the community, found most difficult. ‘No matter how hard things [get], there is always hope’ – that was the message that Sr. Veronica tried to share with the immigrant community in Boston, and it is a message she continues to share today.
Sr. Veronica helped thousands of immigrants from all over the world in their adjustment to life in America, and of her 17 years working in Boston ‘[she] enjoyed every minute!’. Whether assisting with employment and housing, or providing emotional and spiritual support, Sr. Veronica guided people on their path to a greater future. This is what ‘kept [her] going’ throughout her time with the IPC-Boston, that there was always someone in need of support or guidance and this mission continues to guide the work Irish Pastoral Centre in our 30th year.
The Irish Pastoral Centre has been incredibly fortunate throughout its 30 years to receive such wonderful support from the community that we serve. Without the continued generous support of our volunteers, sponsors and donors the IPC would not be the fixture it is within the greater Boston area. From the outset, the Irish and Irish American community embraced and encouraged the mission of the Irish Pastoral Centre and its staff. In 1989 with the arrival of Rev. Jerry O’Donnell and Rev. Gerard Burns, the IPC acknowledged the need for a significant fundraising effort to be able to provide an effective and meaningful service to the Irish communities in Boston. While the financial and physical support of the Archdiocese of Boston, Catholic Charities, and the Ancient Order of Hibernians got the Irish Pastoral Centre off the ground, it was the community that afforded the IPC - and its service users - the opportunity to spread its wings and affect real change for the ‘new Irish’.
The Consul General of Ireland at the time, Brendan Scannell, was one of the Irish Pastoral Centre’s great early advocates, and it was he who led this first great fundraising effort in 1989. Brendan Scannell throughout his time as Consul General had made life-long connections with members of the Boston-Irish community, and he utilized this network to assist the Pastoral Centre’s earliest missions, before funding was available from the Government of Ireland. In 1989, Brendan Scannell, along with of the Irish community, organized a fundraiser in the Irish Social Club in West Roxbury. This fundraiser was attended by over 500 people, and an astonishing $80,000 dollars was raised for the IPC - Boston, about which Brendan Scannell said “Progress has been made but the challenge remains to be done.” This collective acknowledgement from the Boston community ensured that the IPC could continue to develop its outreach to reach the most vulnerable immigrants.
Particularly important to acknowledge in this early fundraising effort was the unwavering support of the late Tom Flatley, who personally donated $10,000 to assist IPC - Boston in its mission. Alongside this, Mr. Flatley requested that donations be made to the IPC - Boston in lieu of flowers at his Mother’s funeral, which took place in the spring of 1989. Gregory Ashe, a member of Mayor Ray Flynn’s administration, was central to gaining the financial support of City Hall at the time, another important factor in the development of the IPC - Boston’s outreach efforts. IPC – Boston received its first funding from the Government of Ireland in 1990 and this now yearly contribution from the Department of Foreign Affairs has sustained us in our mission in large measure, allowing for the continued provision of our social, legal and pastoral services.
The support for the work of the center hasn’t wavered over the last 30 years, and the physical and financial contributions from the Irish community have ensured that the IPC’s mission has been maintained. Without the early drives for IPC - Boston funding, however, the center might never have developed in the way it has. IPC - Boston, and the community we strive to serve, are most grateful for the support the organization has received throughout the years. We aim to be a fixture within the Boston community for many more years, and we hope you will continue to join us on our journey.
With the opening of the Irish Pastoral Centre’s offices in 1988, there was finally a center which could welcome the ‘New Irish’ and help them adjust to life in America. Throughout the late 1980’s the demand for the assistance of the Irish Pastoral Centre continued to increase as more and more young Irish immigrants arrived in Boston. At St. Mark’s Parish in Dorchester, the Irish Pastoral Centre was in the heart of the Irish community, however, as the numbers of undocumented Irish continued to grow, so did the Irish communities in areas outside of Dorchester. The IPC was very conscious of the numbers of Irish spread throughout the city of Boston, and as a result the outreach efforts at the time had to extend not only to the Irish in Dorchester, but further afield in Quincy, Brighton, Allston, Watertown, Roslindale and West Roxbury.
Sr. Veronica Dobson was the only full time member of staff through 1988 and most of 1989, supported part-time by Fr. Finn and Fr. Ronaghan. The staff felt that they were only scratching the surface of the issues being faced by the ‘new Irish’ and realized there was a need for more full time support. In 1988 a request was made of Cardinal Law to extend an invitation to Irish Chaplains, via the Irish Episcopal Commission of Emigration, to assist the IPC in meeting the varying needs of the newly arrived Irish immigrants. Following this request Bishop Eamon Casey of Galway visited Boston to discuss the details of these ‘missions’ by Irish priests with Cardinal Law.
In September 1989 the first Irish chaplains arrived in Boston to work with the young migrant Irish population at the IPC. Fr. Jerry O’Donnell and Fr. Jerry Burns, both from Mayo, arrived from Ireland on what was intended to be a three year mission with the IPC. Although Fr. Jerry O’Donnell was based at Sacred Heart Church in Roslindale, and Fr. Burns was based in St. Ambrose Parish in Fields Corner, both of the chaplains took their ministry to the places where the young Irish community were found throughout greater Boston. The familiarity of the Irish chaplains acted as a gentle reminder of home, and it was through the relationships formed with the community that the barriers and fears to seeking help were broken down. With the arrival of Fathers O’Donnell and Burns, the IPC could extend its ministry of hospitality and welcome to Irish throughout the city of Boston, becoming a ‘parish without boundaries’.
The Irish Pastoral Centre was established 30 years ago, in 1987, to respond to the needs of a growing immigrant Irish population in the greater Boston area. It is understood that there were in the region of 20,000 undocumented Irish in Boston in the mid 80’s in search of a new prosperous life in the United States. These immigrants left Ireland during one of the most severe periods of recession experienced there, with unemployment affecting around 18% of the employable population. Conversely, the unemployment rate in Boston in the mid 80’s was around 4%. The number of visas available to the immigrant Irish at the time did not meet demand and so many individuals arrived on temporary holiday and work visas, which they overstayed due to the opportunities available to them in the United States. However, adjusting to life in the United States posed difficulty, particularly for the undocumented. From the outset, the Irish Pastoral Centre aimed to assist the immigrant Irish to ensure their successful adjustment to life in Boston.
Between 1984 and 1987 there was a significant increase in the number of young Irish in the Dorchester parishes. During this time, Fr. John Ronaghan and Fr. Dan Finn began ministering to the Irish community in their homes, and via meetings in the pubs, clubs, dancehalls and the established groups and societies, like the GAA. Fr. Ronaghan brought to the attention of Cardinal Law and the Archdiocese of Boston the great numbers of ‘new Irish’ that had arrived in the parishes of Dorchester. At the request of the Archdiocese, the parish of St. Mark’s played host to a priest from the Diocese of Raphoe in Donegal, Fr. Cathal O’Fearraí, who would spend a number of months in the spring of 1987 assessing the needs of the ‘New Irish’ in Boston. Fr. O’Fearraí reported these needs to the Archdiocese of Boston, and his own Diocese in Donegal, after meeting with the large cohorts of the young Irish immigrant community. The Irish Pastoral Centre was initiated as a direct response to these reports.
The first organized meeting of what would become the Irish Pastoral Centre was held in August 1987 in St. Mark’s Church in Dorchester. This first meeting was attended by over 800 members of the Irish immigrant community, alongside members of the Haitian and Hispanic communities. At St. Mark’s, Mayor Ray Flynn offered the services of Boston’s Community Health Centers and Boston City Hospital to alleviate some of the concerns regarding the undocumented accessing healthcare, and also the services of the Immigrant Rights office at City Hall to offer advice and information regarding immigration related issues. Within the community, however, there was a need for an organization, and a physical center, which could welcome the newly arrived Irish with open arms. This was the space that would ultimately be filled by the Irish Pastoral Centre, and the organization has played an important role within the Boston Irish community since these early beginnings in Dorchester, all those years ago.