Monday, February 26, 2007

Irish Faithful Remembered (USA)

It started out as talk among people with a common heritage and wound up as a 2,000-pound bronze tribute to Irish immigrants - one of four in the nation.
Florida’s monument to Irish immigrants was dedicated on 11 February at Nativity Parish’s Shrine of Our Lady of the Smile.

“There isn’t anything in Florida to Irish immigrants and they played such a large part,” said Michele O’Brien, director of after-school care and the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults at Nativity. “There is quite an Irish influence here with all the Irish priests who came over.”

Indeed, the Irish-born O’Brien serves as secretary to Nativity’s pastor, the also Irish-born Fr Patrick Murnane. She explained that the idea for the memorial came from a group of Irish people in Broward and Palm Beach counties who come together on a regular basis.

“It blossomed into this, which is very nice,” O’Brien said.

“This” is a 2,000-pound bronze statue created by sculptor Robert St. Croix, who recently completed a massive crucifix for St. Joan of Arc Parish in Boca Raton, Fla. The statue depicts a man and woman holding an infant and their daughter looking over a ship’s railing. The little girl is pointing at something in the distance, and the father and mother also have a far-away look.

According to O’Brien, there are three monuments to Irish immigrants nationwide, including one in New York and one in Boston. Florida’s will be the fourth. But this one is far bigger than the others.

It is housed at Nativity because “Fr (Murnane) had the space down here,” O’Brien said.

Our Lady of the Smile is an outdoor shrine next to the parish church that houses tributes to unborn children, Blessed Mother Teresa and other saints.

According to O’Brien, 1.5 million Irish immigrants came to the United States during the years of the great famine, and another 1.5 million died in Ireland.

“The Irish had their own holocaust,” she said. “They came with their religion. It was such an influence at that time in this country.”

But Fr Murnane said the monument is not just intended as a tribute to the past, but as a reminder for the present.

“This monument represents all immigrants,” he said. “We should not be prejudiced or tough on people who try to seek out a living (by coming here.) That’s what America was built on, really.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen if (the government) stops them from coming in. It’s going to be America’s loss,” Fr Murnane added.

He noted that donations for the sculpture have come from members of all immigrant groups, including Cubans.

And the Irish are not the only ones who are moved when they see it, O’Brien said.

“I had this Italian lady come up to me and she said, ‘Wait until my husband sees this because his parents came over in a ship just like that.’”



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