The Irish connection: From Dublin to Detroit

Irish Pallottines connect mission trips from around the world to Wyandotte community

Fr. Noel O'Connor, SAC, holds a photo of St. Vincent Pallotti, patron of the Irish Pallottine Fathers, during the annual St. Patrick's Day parade in Detroit's Corktown district March 13. The Society of Catholic Apostolate, as the missionary society is also known, conducts missions around the world from its mission house in Wyandotte. Photos by Dan Meloy | The Michigan Catholic

Fr. Noel O’Connor, SAC, holds a photo of St. Vincent Pallotti, patron of the Irish Pallottine Fathers, during the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade in Detroit’s Corktown district March 13. The Society of Catholic Apostolate, as the missionary society is also known, conducts missions around the world from its mission house in Wyandotte.
Photos by Dan Meloy | The Michigan Catholic

Wyandotte — On this fine St. Patrick’s Day, O where could you find the Irish whose traditions you’ve been celebratin’?

You’d find them bravin’ the cold, wet March weather, strollin’ down Michigan Avenue in downtown Detroit with thousands of revelers for the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade, of course.

Detroit’s deep Irish roots were represented March 13 through many Irish-American organizations as members of the Gaelic League, the Ancient Order of Hibernians and others marched through Corktown.

But for the Irish Pallottines, the journey didn’t start at Holy Trinity Parish like most other parade participants’ did. Instead, you’d have to look further east — 3,383 miles east, to be exact.

The Pallottine Fathers, members of the Society of the Catholic Apostolate, came to Wyandotte in 1958 through an agreement between Cardinal Edward Mooney and Fr. James Mullin, SAC, provincial delegate. They settled in the Cahalan family home on Fourth Street, where they began ministering to the spiritual needs of the community and raising funds for the group’s missions around the world.

Fr. Michael Cremin, SAC, who serves as pastor of St. Vincent Pallotti Parish in Wyandotte, joined the Pallottines while he was in the seminary at Pallottine College in Thurles, Ireland.

“They sent me to London, where I spent 14 years working in a parish school, and then I was sent to a parish in Dublin, then off to Wyandotte,” Fr. Cremin said.

Wyandotte?

“The reason for us being in Wyandotte is to open a mission center to raise funds for missions in Tanzania,” said Fr. Cremin, whose heavy Irish brogue still unmistakably identifies his fatherland. “Irish priests have worked in missions all over the world.”

The Irish Pallottine Fathers were represented March 13 during a wet, rainy St. Patrick's Day Parade through Detroit's Corktown neighborhood. Dan Meloy | The Michigan Catholic

The Irish Pallottine Fathers were represented March 13 during a wet, rainy St. Patrick’s Day Parade through Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood.
Dan Meloy | The Michigan Catholic

Fr. Cremin, who hails from County Cork in southwest Ireland, was tasked with ministering to the Irish-Catholic community in Greenford in West London in England.

“There were a lot of Irish that settled in London, so that helped me with my ministry,” Fr. Cremin said. “For the Irish immigrants, the social scene was integrated with parish life. The parish built its own pubs, to create a social center to relax in. We had two big schools; 1,738 students in the high school, and it was a wonderful place to start my missionary work.”

The Irish Pallottines have been sent all over the world, serving in Catholic communities in need of priests and helping with infrastructure projects in developing countries.

Fr. Noel O’Conner, SAC, is the Pallottine Fathers’ mission director and met Fr. Cremin in 1974 when they were both at Pallottine College. Fr. O’Conner hails from Thurles and has served on mission trips to Tanzania and Kenya in East Africa.

“Faith is very strong there, and it was good to bring God to the people,” Fr. O’Conner said. “The Africa worldview is very different than the West; it’s more God-centered, and everything is interconnected with the deceased and living to be reconnected to God.”

Having the opportunity to minister abroad has given the Irish priests a great perspective of what faith life is like around the world and some of the difficulties people have to practice their faith openly in society.

Fr. John Casey, SAC, recently arrived in Michigan after ministering for 30 years in Texas. Before serving in the United States, Fr. Casey served in Buenos Aires, Argentina, starting in 1967 to teach English as a second language. In 1974, the military staged a coup and installed a brutal dictatorship that cracked down on dissidents in a time known as the “Dirty War.”

Fr. Casey recalls the time vividly; some of his students and fellow priests were victims of the violent regime.

“The big difference between Argentina and America is that anyone who disagreed with the military disappeared,” Fr. Casey said. “I left in 1974, but in 1976, I learned three of my companions were killed. God sent me there to teach English as a second language and profess the faith to people who were told not speak out and not to express their faith in public.

“People in America have a hard time understanding what it’s like to live under a dictatorship that silences dissent; people here don’t realize how lucky they are to live in a society where faith is active and walks together in public.”

The Pallottines’ experiences and struggles abroad give them an opportunity to offer an outsider’s perspective on faith life in the Archdiocese of Detroit.

Irish Pallottine Fathers Michael Cremin, Noel O'Connor and John Casey pose with a statute of St. Vincent Pallotti at their mission house in Wyandotte. Photos by Dan Meloy | The Michigan Catholic

Irish Pallottine Fathers Michael Cremin, Noel O’Connor and John Casey pose with a statute of St. Vincent Pallotti at their mission house in Wyandotte.
Photos by Dan Meloy | The Michigan Catholic

While the Archdiocese of Detroit has resources other dioceses in developing countries don’t have, Fr. O’Connor and Fr. Cremin believe the local Church could stand to develop a more missionary mindset.

“We have 11 young people coming into the Church from our parish,” Fr. Cremin said. “I find more people are generous, filling cans of money for our mission, doing whatever work the parish needs done. The Archdiocese of Detroit is trying to stimulate the Church with ‘Come, Encounter Christ’ and the revival of faith in Detroit.

“The archdiocese is going to have a synod coming up, and our parish is going to be represented,” Fr. Cremin continued. “I think evangelization can happened, but in small steps. The pope is another great light of hope awakening many lapsed Catholics.”

Hearkening back to the St. Patrick’s Day parade, the Pallottines believe anything that celebrates St. Patrick and Irish culture in America is a blessing.

“America is wonderful in openness, and America has always been on our (Ireland’s) side,” Fr. O’Connor said. “Being Irish here is a plus, and America has wonderful opportunities. I think America is a blessing from the Irish; the connection is still there today. We love being part of the parade. After a long week, coming together to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day — overall, it’s healthy, and people are proud to be Irish. It gives people a sense of community.”