Msgr. McDonnell honored by Irish Immigration Center

BOSTON -- As the first priest to receive the Solas Award from the Boston Irish Immigration Center, Msgr. Thomas McDonnell said the honor extends to the tireless work of other priests in the Archdiocese of Boston.

“As I stated in my acceptance remarks, I was pleased as an individual to receive it, but I felt that I stood as a reminder of the wonderful work being done by so many priests in the archdiocese,” he said.

The award, named after the Gaelic word for light, was presented at the Westin Copley Hotel on Nov. 9. Since 1993, the center has presented the award to one or two recipients who, like light, give energy, hope and guidance. The honorees have been devoted to helping individuals and entire communities.

For years, Msgr. McDonnell has been a legendary figure in the South Boston community, said Thomas Keown, spokesman for the center.

Currently a senior priest in residence at St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Dedham, the monsignor served as pastor of St. Augustine Parish in South Boston from 1983-2004. He set up programs to feed the hungry and served on civic boards, including Boston’s Commission for the Disabled. He also co-founded the Simon of Cyrene Society, which works to support the needs of persons with disabilities and their families.

Keown added that Msgr. McDonnell blends his ability with humility. An approachable man, he has shown compassion in his advocacy for persons with disabilities and reached countless people through two decades of newspaper columns. Msgr. McDonnell is a longtime contributor to The Pilot. He currently authors seasonal spirituality columns for Lent and Advent.

The Boston Irish Immigration Center, created in 1989 by a handful of volunteers, was formed to help the thousands of arriving immigrants who needed assistance to find jobs and housing. The non-profit organization also seeks to break down barriers between immigrant groups and plan cross-cultural events. This year, the center served immigrants from 112 nations around the world.

“We are only able to do what we do with the help of volunteers, people who sacrifice their time and energy well above that which they’re required to do,” Keown said. “This award honors people who do the same thing.”

The awards dinner began with a performance by the children’s choir from St. Mark Parish in Dorchester. The more than 700 guests were treated to the music of a piper at dinner, and music and dancing continued late into the night.

Speakers included Lt. Gov. Tim Murray and Sen. Edward Kennedy, who was the first recipient of the award 14 years ago.

In his remarks, Msgr. McDonnell spoke about remembering one’s roots. He mentioned traveling to Ireland and being exposed to Irish culture. Specifically, he talked about Irish poet Padraic Pearse, executed as commander-in-chief of rebel forces in the Easter Rebellion of 1916, and highlighted three themes in his poetry. Pearse was a man of the people, a dreamer who wants to make life better for those yet to be born and he wrote in one poem that he took Christ at his word.

Priests too must understand people, help provide for their needs and take Christ at his word, Msgr. McDonnell said.

“My fervent desire is that I will continue to bring the light of Christ, so badly needed,” he added.