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People, Religion

Documentary Shines a Bright New Light on the “Heart of Camden”

The beloved community organizer, poet and peacemaker Monsignor Michael Doyle, native of Rossduff, County Longford, Ireland, is regarded by many as a living saint, though he would dispute such a thing.

To those admirers, Doyle is the life force behind “Heart of Camden,” the multifaceted nonprofit launched in 1984 and responsible for resurrecting the Waterfront South neighborhood in the beleaguered New Jersey city across the Delaware from Philadelphia.

Retired recently after 40 years as pastor of Sacred Heart Church on Ferry Avenue, Doyle’s contributions to that community are manifold, including rehabilitating well over 200 abandoned homes sold to low-income families. He is also the driving force behind the acclaimed Sacred Heart School, which brings hope to children throughout the neighborhood. He established a free clinic—and, really, all of that is just scratching the surface of a life filled with and motivated by a passionate desire for justice and a longstanding commitment to the fight against the cancer of racism.

Now, a recently released 42-minute documentary shines a new light on Doyle’s life and legacy. Taking its cue from Doyle’s creation, it is called “The Heart of Camden: The Story of Father Michael Doyle,” produced by filmmaker Doug Clayton and narrated by acclaimed actor Martin Sheen, a longtime admirer.

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Liz Hanley
Music, Photos, Religion

28th Annual Mick Moloney & Friends Concert in Photos

Every year someone says it, and every year it seems true: “This is the biggest crowd ever.”

Since virtually every pew in St. Malachy’s Church, the historically Irish church in North Philadelphia, was full, and there were people standing in the back, you can take it as read.

Also present in spirit, was Sister Cecile Anne Reiley, SSJ, a force of nature who did so much for so many years for the parish and its highly regarded school. One of her many labors of love was organizing the annual Irish concert. This year’s event was dedicated to her.

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News, People, Photos, Religion

Celebrating the Irish People’s Mass

At a Mass at beautiful St. Anne’s Church on East Lehigh Avenue in Port Richmond Wednesday night, the Irish delegation to the World Meeting of Families got to witness brotherly love in all its glory.

The church was packed—you couldn’t find a parking space for blocks—and the fans couldn’t do much to lower the temperature inside. But no one seemed to mind—certainly not the Most Reverend Liam S. MacDaid DD, Bishop of Clogher, Council for Marriage and the Family, Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, or any of his traveling companions.

With St. Anne’s Pastor Father Ed Brady serving as host, representatives of many of Philadelphia’s Irish organizations were well represented. There was an honor guard from the 69th PA Irish Volunteers, a dance performance by the Rince Ri school, and tunes by the Second Street Irish Society Pipe Band.

Also attending with the Irish delegation:

  • The Most Reverend Donal Murray DD, Bishop Emeritus of Limerick, Council for Marriage and the Family, Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference
  • Reverend Peter Murphy DD, Executive Secretary, Commission for Pastoral Care and the Council for Marriage and the Family, Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference
  • Reverend Eamon Kelly LC, Vice Chargé at the Pontifical Institute Notre Dame of Jerusalem

We have photos from the evening.

Music, News, Religion

Caitriona O’Leary Brings “The Wexford Carols” to a New Audience in All Their Original Glory

Caitriona O'Leary's Enthralling Arrangement of The Wexford Carols

Caitriona O’Leary’s Enthralling Arrangement of The Wexford Carols

Christmas music evokes the spirit and sublime essence of the season, and Caitriona O’Leary has captured all that is meaningful about the Yuletide in her new CD, “The Wexford Carols,” by restoring original tunes to the 17th century poems and singing them in her glorious voice.

Caitriona, the Donegal born singer known for her ethereal voice and for her group DULRA, became captivated by The Wexford Carols 25 years ago when she first heard Noirin Ni Riain singing them on her album, “The Darkest Midnight.” The story behind the carols is part of Ireland’s dark history:  Written as poems in 1684 by Luke Waddinge, Bishop of Ferns, County Wexford, they were published in “A Smale Garland of Pious & Godly Songs.” They were an expression of the politics of the time, and specifically Oliver Cromwell’s 1649 Sack of Wexford, which left the Irish Catholic gentry disenfranchised.  The people found solace in this poetry, and began singing them to popular melodies of the era. In 1728, Father William Devereux composed his own version of the carols, titled “A New Garland Containing Songs for Christmas.” There were originally 22 songs, but only 12 are still sung annually in Wexford as part of the 12 days of Christmas. They were passed down as all traditional Irish songs have been—from “mouth to ear to mouth, through the generations.”

“Indeed, it is fascinating how songs are kept alive like that,” Caitriona said. “And how they develop and change, even if only tiny bit by tiny bit over the centuries. You can sometimes see this in songs that have been passed down orally in other regions—they may have started off the same but through the inevitable personal nuances of different singers end up quite different indeed. Look at how ‘Barbara Allen’ is sung in England versus Appalachia versus how it was written down in 18th century Scotland!”

Caitriona’s captivation with the carols led to her 25 year journey researching the history, and then thoroughly and meticulously recreating the original melodies to the songs.

“I listened to recordings of the traditional carolers in Kilmore (as well as hearing them live) and I read every scrap of history I could find. I was very fortunate to be able to hold in my hands and peruse an original 1728 edition of Waddinge’s ‘Garland’ (the second edition) in The National Library (Ireland) and had access to the treasure trove that is the Irish Traditional Music Archives,” Caitriona explained.

Some tunes were easier than others to restore to the poems.

“In the case of ‘An Angel This Night’ it wasn’t so hard at all; Waddinge intended for all of his poems to be sung and beneath the title of each is the instruction ‘To the tune of…’ In this case the tune in question was ‘Neen Major Neel.’ While the tune with that title is no longer known, two other Waddinge poems (‘On St. Stephen’s Day’ and ‘Song of the Circumcision, New Year’s Day’) are also to be sung to ‘Neen Major Neel’ and are both still sung traditionally. I have made the assumption that this is the original tune. In other cases, the prescribed tunes have been a little harder to hunt down. But by trawling through old ballad books and dance books from the 17th and 18th centuries, I did find some that I think are right. Like, for example, ‘This is Our Christmass Day’ which is supposed to be sung to the tune of ‘Bonny-brooe.’ I reckon that Waddinge probably meant ‘The Bonny Broom,’ a popular 17th century Scottish song.

“I really love these texts, the wonderful contrast between the humble and the lavish expressed in fabulously rich, yet accessible language. The tunes are beautiful, too, and the fact that so much of the tradition has been kept alive by the folk is really wonderful. Apart from ‘The Ennisworthy Carol’ (which is quite well known, generally by the name ‘The Wexford Carol’), these songs are almost unknown outside the parish in which they are still sung. And there is not a huge amount of traditional Irish Christmas music in the general repertoire. That fact also made these songs all the more precious to me. Also, I lived in New York for many years, and while there Irish culture took on a whole new meaning for me. Sometimes it takes exile to strengthen ties (the old ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’)!”

And how did her three co-vocalists come to be involved in the project?

“The producer of this record, the lovely Joe Henry, suggested Tom Jones and Rosanne Cash and also Rhiannon Giddens—whose star is rising very fast; she is a member of the Grammy-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops and the New Basement Tapes (a ‘supergroup’ that also includes Elvis Costello and Marcus Mumford). He had worked with all three in the past and thought they would be a good fit for the project—I think he was right! These three singers, along with the band of brilliant players, gathered in a circle around Joe and me in a former stable (that is now the Grouse Lodge Recording Studio) and gave their individual and collective artistic responses to the tunes as I sang them, and together we made this beautiful music.”

Beautiful. Stunning. Sublime. It takes more than one adjective to describe “The Wexford Carols.”

Watch the video of “The Angell Said to Joseph Mild:”

Visit Caitriona O’Leary’s website, where you can order the CD.


News, Religion

Look Good? You Could Win It for a Week

Take a chance, win a week's vacation here.

Take a chance, win a week’s vacation here.

If you’re looking for hope in Camden, New Jersey, you might start with the five Catholic Partnership Schools. Each stands as a little island of excellence and hope in a city where those values can be exceedingly rare. Camden is far better known for its infamous crime rate and desperate poverty—and for its failing schools. It’s a place where the graduation rate is less than 50 percent, and only three out of 882 SAT test takers in 2012 were judged ready for college.

Here’s why the Catholic Partnership Schools are different. “It’s really about creating a safe and nurturing environment and student-centered academic programs, and we really are defined by faith-based values,” says Director of Development Keith Lampman. We really do believe that educating Camden’s children in the most efficient and modern manner is the best way to break the cycle of poverty and violence.”

And they do it all for a lot less money than the public or charter schools. It costs $8,000 annually to educate a student at the five schools—Holy Name, Sacred Heart, Saint Anthony of Padua, Saint Cecilia, and Saint Joseph Pro-Cathedral.

By comparison, it costs nearly $24,000 to educate a child in the Camden public schools, and $16,000 for kids in charter schools. Families chip in an average of $900 annual tuition—maybe more or maybe less, depending on ability to pay. Most students in the Camden Partnership schools are non-Catholic. Enrollment in the five schools is about 1,000.

Catholic Partnership Schools are getting good results for their relatively modest investment, Lampman says. “We’re closing the achievement gap. In language arts, by 8th grade, our students are at the national norm or above it. It’s the same with reading. We surpass it in math.”

Paying for those schools is no easy task, but after six years of operation, Lampman says, the partnership and its many donors continue to rise to the challenge.

One of the ways the partnership is raising funds this year should be appealing to anyone who loves Ireland. It’s a raffle for a week in a 19th century Irish cottage in central Mayo, donated by Bill McLaughlin, director and founder of the Irish American Business Chamber & Network (IABCN). It is situated on a 22-acre working farm—and don’t worry, it’s fully modernized, with a beautiful up-to-date kitchen and bathroom, skylights, and hardwood floors. The prize includes round-trip airfare for two.

Donor Ann Baiada came up with the idea at the first gala cocktail party last May. It’s where the partnership introduced its “Fund a Future Initiative.” The dollars raised in the raffle will go directly into that initiative, Lampman says.

The Fund a Future Initiative, says Lampman, “allows us to keep our doors open. One of the things I always tell people is that we’re going into our sixth year with this replicable model of Catholic education, and we have no debt.”

Perpetuating that successful model is Lampman’s job, but it’s also important on a personal level.

“It means a lot to me. I’m not Catholic, but I am absolutely moved every time I go into those schools. Going into those schools is life-changing.”

  • You can help keep a good thing going, too. Purchase a raffle ticket for that glorious Irish cottage. They’re $100, and only 500 tickets will be sold. Get the details here.
People, Religion

Lorna Byrne: Blessed by the Angels

Lorna Byrne Giving a Blessing

On a St. Patrick’s Day that began with Jimmy Lynn’s fabulous and noisy breakfast at the Plough & the Stars and was followed by a solemn and chilly commemoration at the Irish Memorial at Penn’s Landing, I couldn’t have foreseen the sacred and truly spiritual afternoon that would crown my day at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Chestnut Hill. But that’s the wonderful thing about being Irish in Philadelphia on March 17th; you never know what the day will bring.

For me it brought Lorna Byrne, an Irish woman whose earliest memories are of the angels who have always been a presence in her life. Lorna sees angels the way most of us see other people; to her, these ethereal beings are a very solid physical manifestation. And, she assures us, every single one of us has our own guardian angel following us at all times.

It’s a comforting thought, and only one of the many encouraging messages that she has been chosen to share with the world.

As a young girl, her relationship with the angels meant she spent her days in almost a cocoon. They talked with her, she laughed with them, they even played hide and seek together. Her separateness from the world around her led to her being given a diagnosis of “retarded.” Lorna was born into a poor Dublin family in 1953, a time when anyone labeled as different in any way was automatically considered to be somehow mentally deficient. Teachers basically ignored her, and it didn’t help that she was actually dyslexic. Although the angels were adamant during those years that Lorna tell no one about them, they also revealed to her that one day when the time was right, she would write a book and share their existence with the world. At the time, Lorna laughed because her dyslexia meant that she couldn’t read and could barely write; she hardly felt she was the one who would write a book about anything. But as with everything the angels told her, they were correct in this, too.

She used to ask the angels, “Why me?” And their response was “Why not you, Lorna?”

This past Sunday, Lorna spoke to a crowd of more than 550 people who attended her free appearance at St. Paul’s, an audience made up of both those who had read her books and followed her for years, as well as others who came because they were hearing about her for the first time and wanted to learn more. The format took shape as a one hour interview, with Lorna being questioned by Rev. E. Clifford Cutler, the rector of St. Paul’s, followed by a 30 minute question and answer period with the audience. But it was the nearly two hours of blessings that Lorna stayed and gave to every single person who wanted one after the 90 minutes of interviewing that left those who had gathered there awash in a wave of peacefulness and tranquility.

The Archangel Michael gave Lorna the prayer that she recites in her blessings, and that she has had it printed on cards for the audience to take with them:

“Pour out Thy Healing Angels,
Thy Heavenly Host upon me
and upon those that I love.
Let me feel the beam of Thy Healing Angels upon me, 
the light of Your Healing Hand.
I will let Thy Healing  begin
Whatever way God grants it…Amen.”

Lorna’s messages are about love, acceptance, and being the best we can be during our physical time here on earth. The God she knows doesn’t have a single religion; His angels are gifts to everyone on earth regardless of the faith they follow. Here are some of the words she shared with those who joined her in Chestnut Hill:

“The angels have always been my best friends, my companions, my teachers,” she explained. “But I suppose the important thing to say to all of you is that each and every one of you, no matter whether you believe, or if you’re a skeptic, or what faith you have, or what religion you have…each and every one of you has a guardian angel that God has given you. And your guardian angel never leaves you for one second. So you’re never, never alone and you’re loved unconditionally.

“But I suppose the other thing is that the guardian angel is the gatekeeper to your soul, and I’m afraid you can’t throw that gift away that God has given you. You can ignore it, and you can do your best and deny it, but I am traveling the whole world and I have never seen any man, woman or child without a guardian angel, and it doesn’t matter what religion you are.

“So it is to be conscious and aware that you have a guardian angel and that has been one of the most powerful messages that has come out to the world since I have written the book, ‘Angels in My Hair.’ Angels, I have to say to you, are neither male nor female. Just sometimes they give a human appearance within themselves so we can recognize them. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t.

“And again, it’s to teach us that…material things are important, we do need material things. But they’re not the most important thing. And, if for some reason, your life, you know, creates a lot of material things, you’re actually meant to share them. Because you can’t bring any material thing with you when you die. Your soul brings no material thing whatsoever, just the love and all of the good things you have done. And even too the hurt and pain, but it’s not as if that hurt and pain at that moment is washed away, straight away, because when your guardian angel takes hold of your soul and brings it forward to come out of your human body, you know God is real. You know you are a spiritual being as well. And you know you are being reborn. And that is an important thing to remember. And that is one of the very strong messages in both books, that when you die it’s only your physical body that dies. You actually live forever.

“And, I’m afraid, God IS real, and so is your guardian angel and all those unemployed angels that are here as well, in hope that you will ask your guardian angel to allow an unemployed angel to help you within your life. And, to me that is fantastic. God is real. Don’t wait til the last moment of your life to realize that. Change the world for the better. We all have that opportunity…lots of adults say to me, ‘But my life is insignificant. I have done nothing.’ But your life is very precious, and the most important gift God has given you is to live life, and everything you do within your life is accountable. But everything as well is that you’re changing everyone else’s life every time you do good. Every time you reach out and help someone, even if it is just a smile. I always have to smile at the angels, you know.”

You can read more about Lorna Byrne at her website and order her books here as well.