Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Irish and African-American Shared Struggle for Equality

They were not allowed to teach their children nor could they hold public office, vote or practice law. They couldn’t enter into mix marriages or own weapons. If you think I’m referring to the treatment of African-Americans in this country, you’re wrong. I’m referring to the Irish in their own country of Ireland.

During the Terror of Britain’s famed Oliver Cromwell and the Proclamation of 1625, there were over 300,000 Irish political prisoners sent overseas and sold as slaves to English settlers in the West Indies. Irish Catholics experienced the same struggles with slavery, discrimination, social class issues and negative stereotypes similar to that of African Slaves and African-Americans. The Irish saw themselves as slaves of the British; therefore, supported the abolition of slavery in the United States.

Where there is slavery and racism, there will be brave souls to stand up for freedom. Frederick Douglas was such a soul. During his five-week tour of Ireland, he met his Irish counterpart in the freedom fighter and nationalist Daniel O’Connell. O’Connell almost singlehandedly launched the Catholic Association and campaigned for Catholic Emancipation, which was finally achieved in 1829. O’Connell referred to Douglas as “The Black O’Connell.” When Douglas spoke, thousands of Irish men and women packed halls to hear his fiery antislavery speeches in Dublin, Wexford, Waterford, Cork, Limerick and Belfast where he expressed the shared parallels between the Irish and African-American slave experiences. Those who heard him were so moved they signed a petition declaring the following: “Treat the colored people as your equals, as brethen.”

During the Civil War, the Irish fought on both the Union and Confederate side with the largest majority joining the Union side of the war. Old St. Patrick’s second pastor, Rev. Dennis Dunne, formed the 90th volunteers who were an all Irish Brigade that fought on the Union side. It’s estimated that over 150,000 Irishmen fought on the Union side of that war. However, there reasons for fighting in the Civil War were quite varied. It’s noted that some fought to help free slaves while others fought to free themselves from the sometimes crude treatment that confronts some new immigrants when they make it to America.

As Irish immigrants in America, they were referred to as “White Niggers.” Storefront signs often read, “No Black, No Irish” and weird forms of Darwinism persisted claiming the Irish and Blacks were more like apes than Anglo-Saxons. The Irish were forced to take lower paying jobs and at times competed with free blacks for jobs as waiters and longshoremen as well as with African slaves. Oddly enough, some free blacks even joined in the constant Irish jokes about their laziness or stupidity. All of this competition and Irish joking created lots of tension between the two groups that manifested into riots and violence. While the Irish in Ireland seemed to sympathize with the plight of African slaves, and the former slaves sympathized with the Irish’s continued struggles in Ireland, it appears that Irish immigrants and African-Americans turned hostile towards each other in America at certain times in history. Even Daniel O’Connell scolded Irish immigrants for their racism, stating: “It was not in Ireland you learned this cruelty.”

Yet, there are still many parallels between Irish freedom fighters, African slaves and African-American freedom fighters struggling for equality. Even in political contexts the link between the Irish and African Liberation surfaced when Marcus Garvey named his headquarters the New York Liberty Hall, similar to James Connolly’s Liberty Hall in Dublin. Garvey even justified the inclusion of green along with black and red in the international African flag of the Universal Negro Improvement Association in order to symbolize the Irish struggle for freedom. Garvey continued to support the Irish fight for freedom, and always pointed out Africa’s similar fight for freedom.

Irish and African-Americans have either stood with each other or influenced one another throughout history. When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. struggled throughout the 50’s and 60’s to achieve equality for black Americans as well as poor people during the Civil Rights Movement, civil rights leaders in Northern Ireland were inspired and utilized his tactics and strategies for their own fight for equality.

Today, you still see the Irish standing up for African American causes as well as causes for other races and populations including their own continued struggles in Northern Ireland. Sadly, the biggest issues in the black community today aren’t racism (although that still exists) but black-on-black violence. Who is standing up against violence in the black community? You guessed it, an Irish Catholic priest named Fr. Michael L. Pfleger. With a congregation that is 100% black, Fr. Pfleger joins with African-Americans in speaking out on violence in the black community through Voices Against Violence and other initiatives. His church has also tackled the over saturation of drugs in the black community as well as the blight and constant liquor billboards everywhere. Fr. Pfleger continually leads numerous peace walks through violent neighborhoods and has been recognized for his compassionate stand against injustice.

During the 2008 presidential campaign the most famous Irish family from Boston, the Kennedy’s, supported President Barack Obama’s run for the presidency over Hillary Clinton. There support as well as the incredible Iowa win (and Oprah Winfrey’s support) put Obama over the top and brought about a historical moment my family never thought we’d see in our lifetime – an African-American president. Large percentages of Irish Catholics supported Obama’s presidency, and I was proud to see those alliances surface during such a historic time in the history of American politics.

The Irish and African Americans share a unique experience of fighting for freedom and peace throughout history. Sure, this history hasn’t always been pretty. In fact, at times it has been incredibly tense and violent. Yet, the ideals this country was founded on: “all men are created equal” is an ideal that has captured the hearts of many people around the world. We are all aware of the hypocrisy of our Founding Fathers owning slaves as they wrote those words. Yet and still we hold true to its sentiment and different groups throughout history have turned those words into their own reality.

As we approach St. Patrick’s Day (St. Patrick, by the way, was a Celtic slave), we should celebrate with our Irish brothers and sisters and continue to remember the similar struggles we share. A grab for power, money, class and control can happen to any race and fuel tensions that generations of people must fight. Northern Ireland continues to struggle for their freedom, just as African-Americans continue to struggle for equality in this country regardless of subtle or overt forms of racism – while also struggling with the legacy of slavery through the inner demons in our own minds. Obama’s presidency proves that regardless of racism, if you work hard and continue to educate yourself you can achieve great things in life. Therefore, if we work together with all races, we’ll create a place on Earth one day where all of us are free. A world where we are free to love who we want to love, practice the religion of our choice, and be who we feel we are. If we do these things, then one day we’ll truly win against those who’d like to divide us by focusing more on skin color, religion and social status rather than character, kindness and heart. 

Monday, February 14, 2011

Our Special Wedding Day and the Love We Share

Our wedding day was five days away
And I couldn't wait to be your wife
Lovin' you for the rest of my life
No more waiting, no more planning
Our wedding day was finally near 
Filled with all the wedding day frills.

Together, we both stepped forward to seal the deal
To love each other until we're old and gray
To always kiss our blues away

We continue to travel the journey of life
Proud to be husband and wife
Fifteen years ago I walked down the aisle
To my sweetie pie and pal
Feeling our love burst into bloom
As we made that important step on a sunny day in June.

Happy Valentine's Day to my hubby and friend of 15 years!
We truly have faced all our fears
Health issues, job challenges, soul searching and more
Marriage is a journey filled with the ups and downs we endured
It's a journey like no other that wouldn't have been quite right Without someone just like you that I promise to love 
For the rest of my life.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Martin Sheen Narrates 15th Annual Siamsa na nGael at Chicago Symphony Center

Trinity Irish Dancers

Join Old St. Patrick’s Church as they present a musical extravaganza at the 15th Annual Siamsa na nGael in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. This extraordinary evening combines songs, dance, and stories that explore the Irish championing the cause of liberty south of the border. Guests will enjoy stirring narrative prose by Martin Sheen, Award-winning actor, and Rodrick Dixon, renowned performer, plus captivating music mingling Spanish and Celtic tunes arranged by Scott Stevenson and Gary Fry and innovative dance from the Trinity Irish Dancers. For more details, go to

When:    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 7:30 p.m. Purchase tickets ($25-55) through the Chicago Symphony Center Box office when they go on sale Monday, Feb. 7 by calling 312.294.3000 or visit

Where:  Chicago Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan Ave. 

The stories of Bernardo O'Higgins, John Riley, and the San Patricios will bring to light the tales of farmers and fiercely brave "Colorados" who will capture your hearts and imagination. Vocal soloists Michael Boschert, Catherine O’Connell, and Rodrick Dixon will share the stage as they enthrall audiences with their vocal range and versatility. Plus, the Old St. Patrick’s Concert Choir, a Pipe and Drum Band and much more! Don’t miss the Old St. Patrick’s Church gift to the city of Chicago in honor of St. Patrick’s Day!

Proceeds support the church and the Center 
for Social Concerns on the Old St. Pat’s campus,
which houses the following outreach programs: 
Horizons for Youth; Career Transitions Center 
of Chicago Harmony, Hope and Healing, Coprodeli 
U.S.A., and Global Alliance for Africa.

Rodrick Dixon

Martin Sheen

Catherine O'Connell

Media hits to date:,+Agents/Martin+Sheen/076PcEodwadGi/1

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The History of Old St. Pat's Community Outreach Initiatives: Over 155 Years of Outreach to those in Need

Thank you for joining Old St. Patrick’s first charity team for the 2011 Bank of America Chicago Marathon. The marathon will be held on Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2011. Old St. Patrick’s Church is truly honored to be one of the many charities participating in this World-class marathon in our very own city of Chicago.

As an Old St. Pat’s Crossroads Runner, you were asked to raise a minimum of $1,200 ($1,000 if you signed up with Old St. Pat’s prior to Feb. 1) to support Old St. Pat’s Community Outreach Initiatives. Old St. Pat’s has one of the most robust social outreach missions of any Church in the city.

“At the heart of Old St. Pat’s Community Outreach Initiative is a desire to eradicate poverty and homelessness through jobs and education,” said Fr. Thomas J. Hurley, pastor of Old St. Pat’s Church. “Organizations like Horizons for Youth; Global Alliance for Africa; Career Transitions Center of Chicago; Harmony, Hope, & Healing; and Coprodeli U.S.A. are all housed in our Center for Social Concerns building, 703 West Monroe, which is funded and managed by Old St. Pat’s Church.” Additionally, Church members volunteer for over 75 organizations throughout the year, which are considered our “Circle of Concern” and make up the fabric of Old St. Patrick’s Church.” Our resource guide can be found online at

Old St. Patrick’s Church has been supporting worthwhile causes that support those in need for over 155 years. This long history began with the second pastor of Old St. Pat’s, Rev. Dennis Dunne, who served from 1854-to mid 1868. Rev. Dunne was instrumental in forming a chapter of the St. Vincent de Paul Society on Dec. 31, 1857. Old St. Pat’s was the first church to found a society created specifically to serve the needs of the poor. This chapter included prominent men from the church who supported free schools for Catholic children and raised funds for poor church members. Catholic Charities has its roots in the St. Vincent de Paul Society.

Old St. Patrick’s Community Outreach Group was founded over 26 years ago by a small group of members who wanted to dedicate themselves to reaching out to those in need in Chicago’s Westside neighborhoods. Eight volunteers began serving soup and sandwiches at a Franciscan Soup Kitchen on Kinzie Street, just north of the Chicago River (St. Francis Inn). This outreach later turned into the only overnight shelter in Chicago that is open 365 days a year and serves both men and women, it’s called the Franciscan House of Mary & Joseph Shelter.

Today, more than 10 Old St. Pat’s volunteers go to the Franciscan House of Mary & Joseph on a weekly basis to serve soup and sandwiches, purchased by Old St. Pat’s, for lunch and dinner. Over 30 women per month receive manicures from Old St. Pat’s volunteers with all equipment purchased by the church. At least 75 people join forces once a year to paint the interior of the shelter, and again all supplies (and lunch) is purchased by Old St. Patrick’s Church. Additionally, children from the Frances Xavier Warde School participate in two drives per year to provide blankets, pillows, and linen to this shelter, so the youngest on the campus are learning to care for those in need. As a Crossroads Runners, you too are supporting this shelter because the funds you raise on behalf of Old St. Pat’s Community Outreach Initiatives will support our year-round administrative cost and philanthropic efforts associated with supporting this and other worthwhile organizations.

Would you like to learn even more about one of the organizations you will help support? If so, join the Connections February Service Project on Saturday, Feb. 26 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The Connections group (made up of Old St. Pat’s members who are 35 years old and up) will be working at the Franciscan House of Mary and Joseph Shelter, 2715 W. Harrison. The facility shelters and feeds over 250 homeless men and women every night. Although the shelters repair needs are vast, this group will be focusing their attention on the kitchen where meals are prepared and clients eat standing at stainless steel tables. They will need 25 to 30 volunteers to help accomplish the following: paint, repair faucets, stabilize the tables, and hang pictures.

If you are able to help out and would like a deeper understanding of why you are raising funds for Old St. Patrick’s Church, please consider joining us and learning more about the Franciscan House of Mary and Joseph Shelter.

As a Crossroads Runners, we will take the journey together in providing you all the support you will need as a runner, but also as a fundraiser. Stay tuned for more information about the history and individual stories of the Old St. Pat’s Community Outreach Initiatives and what your support will help us do to eradicate poverty and homelessness through jobs and education.

We look forward to taking this journey with you and are so glad you have chosen to join us this year. Follow us on Facebook at for continued updates and more info on Old St. Patrick’s Church.