Center for Irish Studies Renames Center after Bill Flynn
The “top 10 in the country-rated” University of St. Thomas Center for Irish Studies reached milestones and broke records at its annual Irish Gala held Nov. 5 at the Houstonian Hotel in Houston. The Gala, chaired by Jes and John Hagale, honored Peg and William J. Flynn, Chairman Emeritus of Mutual of America Life Insurance Company, for their role in the development of the Center for Irish Studies, in building peace and prosperity in Ireland and Northern Ireland, and in making life better for many people around the world through their philanthropic and volunteer spirit of giving.
The event set the stage for the University to announce that the Center has surpassed its $1 million initial goal for the William J. Flynn Endowment for Peace and Reconciliation. The University also announced the renaming of the Center as the William J. Flynn Center for Irish Studies.
The Flynns have been instrumental in the success of the Center for Irish Studies and its mission to promote peace and reconciliation around the world. William J. Flynn is recognized by leaders of the Irish, Northern Irish and British governments for his tireless efforts in fostering peace and economic prosperity in Northern Ireland. He has promoted reconciliation between Protestants and Catholics through economic development in Northern Ireland.
Bill Flynn’s active involvement in the peace process began in September of 1992, when, as Chairman of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, he hosted one of the first peace conferences, in Derry, Northern Ireland, including all groups involved in the civil war. He demonstrated decisive leadership and daring diplomacy in spurring two cease-fires in Northern Ireland. Bill reached out to people of all faiths and on all sides of the conflict, inviting them to the table for dialogue in a spirit of mutual respect and cooperation.
He has received recognition from the highest levels of the Irish, Northern Irish and British Governments for his dedication to the peace process. Irish President Mary McAleese described Flynn’s contribution as “simply immense.” The Irish Prime Minister An Taoiseach Brian Cowen, described Flynn as “one of Ireland’s greatest friends,” for both his work on the peace process and economic development. From the British Government, Her Majesty the Queen awarded Flynn the title of an honorary Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in honor of his exceptional devotion to the peace process.
Drawing the largest crowd in its ten-year history, the Irish Gala welcomed 370 guests, grossed over $229,000 in table and tickets sales as well as donations and more than $33,000 for auction items. Guests were generous with their “paddles up,” raising over $53,000 for scholarships for UST students to study in Ireland and students from Ireland and Northern Ireland to study at UST.
Traditional Irish musicians, including button accordion player Colm Gannon, fiddler Jesse Smith and guitarist, John Blake, performed the entertainment of the evening, along with and singers Aoife Ní Ghloinn, UST’s Visiting Irish Studies Scholar, and her sister, Fiona Ní Ghloinn, both from Ireland.
Special guests included Irish Vice Consul, Tim Reilly, from Chicago, the Honorable John B. Kane, Honorary Consul General of Ireland, and his wife, Alayne, and the Rev. Bill Shaw, of the 174 Trust in Belfast. Archbishop Joseph A. Fiorenza presented the invocation for the evening and ABC affiliate KTRK newscaster Don Nelson served as master of ceremonies. In attendance were previous Irish Gala honorees Kathleen and Larry Miggins (2002), Norma and Dr. Joseph McFadden (2005), Sally and Bill Slick (2006), Pat Moran (2007), Alayne and Honorary Consul General of Ireland John B. Kane (2008) and Colleen and George McCullough (2009), as well as the President of The Irish Society, Patrick Sharkey and his wife, Mary.
The University established the Center for Irish Studies in 2003, with the support of The Irish Society, a community-based nonprofit, nonsectarian organization. The Center for Irish Studies’ two primary goals are to promote peace and reconciliation using the democratic model of Northern Ireland, and to preserve Irish heritage and culture. Irish Studies academic programs include an undergraduate minor and graduate concentration in the Master in Liberal Arts Program. Since 2007, under the direction of Lori Gallagher JD, the Center has awarded study abroad scholarships to 38 students and secured study abroad funding in excess of $110,500. The Center also sponsors monthly cultural events open to the public related to all aspects of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Irish America.
Shown above: William J. Flynn, Lori Gallagher, Marianne Ivany, Dr. Robert Ivany.