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.
Irish Pastoral Centre
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Dorchester, MA 02124
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