Top 100 Irish America's Finest in Education "To the extent that we are all educated and informed
Top 100 Irish America's Finest in Education
"To the extent that we are all educated and informed, we will be more equipped to deal with gut issues that divide us."
The following pages honor those who have inspired and nurtured others by bestowing the gift of education.
Caroline Kennedy has not relied on her name alone. With a BA from Radcliffe and a Juris Doctrate from Columbia Law School, she set her own course as a writer and a lawyer.
In 1991 she co-wrote the New York Times bestseller In Our Defense: The Bill of Rights in Action, which presents the Bill of Rights in a manner accessible to the general public. Other published works include The Right to Privacy and The Best-Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
Meanwhile her current book, A Family Christmas, published in 2007, contains excerpts from her favorite writers as well as personal pieces written about her childhood.Kennedy inherited her mother's love of New York, and
her name has long been linked with the city's cultural and community causes, particularly education. She is the vice chair of The Fund for Public Schools and a member of the national board of directors for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund.
She helped raise over $65 million for the city's public schools during her tenure (2002-2004) as the chief executive for the Office of Strategic Partnership for the New York City Department of Education.
Kennedy also serves as the President of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation and is honorary chairman of the American Ballet Theater. In 1989, she helped establish the Profile in Courage Awards, which are given annually to those (often elected officials) who have made decisions of conscience over career. Kennedy lives in New York City with her husband, Edwin Arthur Schlossberg, and their three children.
Rev. Joseph McShane
Reverend Joseph McShane, President of Fordham University, has devoted his life to education. He has served in numerous high-level positions at universities around the country, including president of the University of Scranton.
In 2003, he returned to Fordham as its 32nd president, having previously served as dean. Fordham is now ranked in the top 23 schools in the country, and McShane's long-term goal for the university is to make Fordham the country's preeminent Catholic institution of higher learning.
Reverend McShane grew up in New York City and graduated from Regis High School. In 1977, McShane was ordained as a Jesuit priest. He received his M.Div. and S.T.M. degrees from the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley and his Ph.D. in the history of Christianity from the University of Chicago. He traces his Irish ancestry to Co. Louth on his grandfather's side and Co. Armagh on his grandmother's.
James J. Murphy
Jim Murphy teaches courses in Modern Irish Literature and Culture at Villanova University. Since its founding in 1842, Villanova has had a rich connection to Ireland. With a nod to that history and to his own personal background, Murphy initiated the university's Irish Studies program in 1979.
Since that time he has nurtured and developed the program, which is now one of the oldest and largest undergraduate programs of its kind in the U.S.
Students study Ireland and Irish America from the interlocking perspectives of traditional academic disciplines and through courses taught by a visiting distinguished Irish writer-in-residence. In Ireland, the Villanova Center for Irish Studies is based at The National University, Galway, where students now study throughout the year.
The first of his family to receive a college education, Murphy went from St. Augustine's HS in Brooklyn to Manhattan College (BA '62), Niagara University (MA '63) and then on to Temple University (Ph.D. '71).
Both of his parents emigrated in the 1920s - his mother Kathleen Sloyan from Ballyhaunis, Co. Mayo, and his father Patrick Murphy from Cloone, Co. Leitrim.
Jim says, "My work is a way to thank them and to reach back to the world that they left behind. Growing up in an Irish world in Brooklyn has been one of the great shaping experiences of my life." He is working on a memoir based on his parents' experiences. "For me, being Irish-American has given me two rich and complex worlds to explore."
As director of the Great Irish Famine Curriculum, former chair of the International Association for the Study of Irish Literatures and past president of the American Conference for Irish Studies, Professor Maureen Murphy, pictured above (right) with students from the Yeats Summer School, has done an impressive job of advancing Irish studies. Aside from her teaching duties she is an interim dean of the School of Education and Allied Human Services and equal opportunity advisor at Hofstra University.
Murphy also serves as the assistant director of the Yeats Summer School in Sligo, and is the director of the Great Irish Famine curriculum, funded by the New York State Education Department.
A highly-regarded writer, Murphy has written over one hundred articles and book chapters. She is the lone American senior editor of the Dictionary of Irish Biography, which will be published by Cambridge University Press in 2009. A University College, Dublin Fulbright Fellow, she has particularly enjoyed her place on the interview board for the Senator George Mitchell Fellowships in 2004 and 2006.
Murphy traces her Irish roots to Ballinamuck, Co. Longford on her grandmother's side and Mohill, Co. Leitrim on her grandfather's. She lived in Inverin, Co. Galway for a time in 1965 to learn Irish and is an annual visitor.
Sister Peggy McEntee
If playwright John Patrick Shanley suffered first night nerves at the opening of Doubt at the Manhattan Theater in 2004, they paled by comparison to those he experienced at another performance when, at his invitation, his toughest critic of all was present.
"I felt great trepidation knowing that Sister James, my first grade teacher at St. Anthony's, was sitting in the same row - just seats away," laughs John Patrick.
Not only had Shanley based the character of the young nun in the play on his first grade teacher, but he had also used her real name.
The play is set in a Catholic school in the Bronx 1964, where the principal nun becomes suspicious when a priest takes an interest in one of the boy pupils,
"I had received an e-mail saying, 'I understand you are doing a play about the nuns and a character called Sister James. Well, Sister James is a friend of mine and she has heard about it and would love to come to see it,' " explains John Patrick, taking a break from directing the movie of Doubt, starring Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams, who plays Sister James.
"I was terrified," recalls Shanley. "I thought 'lawsuit!' - I hadn't even changed her name.
"Fortunately, she liked the play so much she went back four times including the time she was my guest at the opening night on Broadway and at the party with all the razzmatazz after." (Doubt transferred to the Walter Kerr Theater where it became the largest-grossing non-musical play in Broadway history).
Sister James, now called Sister Peggy, was born Margaret McEntee but took the name Sister James, following the then Catholic rule of giving nuns men's names. Sister Peggy now teaches at a school in New York's West Village and lives in St. Vincent's College.
Speaking with Irish America on the phone, Sister Peggy describes her Irish heritage.
"My paternal grandparents, Kitty Clark and James McEntee, came from County Cavan. They relocated to New York as did my maternal grandparents, Mary Freeman and James Ware, who also came over from Ireland, from Roscommon. My parents were Peggy Ware and James McEntee. I have one brother, also called James."
Asked what had inspired her to become a teacher, Sister Peggy replied without hesitation, "My own teachers. I dearly loved the Sisters of Charity. From grades 1 to 12, I was taught at St. Margaret's in Riverdale [Bronx]."
Discussing the first time she saw Doubt, Sister Peggy enthuses, "I was mesmerized by the play. It pulled me back in time. It was so real to me. It made me feel as though I was back there teaching." She explains, "We did not have a pedophile priest, but how clever of John Patrick to have used this plot with its much publicized contemporary overtones to demonstrate how important doubt can be.
"Doubt has a real value unto itself."
And did she remember John Patrick?
"It took me a little bit of time and then I did remember a little boy called Johnny Shanley. He was a very shy child and rather quiet.
"I saw him as a boy with a keen mind - he was only six years old - but I had no idea how very bright he was!"
How does it feel knowing that you taught him to read and write and are therefore part of it all?
"It's beautiful to think about it in that way but it also scares me a bit," Sister Peggy laughs, then more serious, she continues, "A teacher's job is to
educate - to lead the pupil into the land of knowledge. A good teacher does her job, then lets the pupil pass on. So I had my time, my time with John Patrick as a pupil and now it's his time. And he seems to have done very well with it."
Tell us about your other job as a technical advisor on the film.
"It's been nothing but a joy. And quite humbling at the same time. Life brings you surprises. I had no idea that I would, at my age, be roaming around with Meryl Streep and Amy Adams. I'm having a ball!
"The other day I even ended up adjusting the 'cat bows'- the ones that tie under the chin - of Meryl Streep."
Getting back to your 'day job,' what is the most rewarding thing about teaching?
"The relational aspect that I have with young children. I love working with youth - it keeps me young.
"I'm very caught up in the Holocaust - I teach religion and the culture of peace."
They say that to be a great teacher you have to be a good actor.
"I do feel as though I'm on stage in the classroom and I think I have to play a role sometimes to first just catch their eyes and then to get absolute attention," laughs Sister Peggy. "It gets harder because these days the kids are so 'techy' - they have access to so much information from computers and such. In fact I have a couple of students who are so good I use them as my private secretaries to help me with my charity work."
Asked about the lasting impact Sister James had on him, John Patrick recalls,
"We were her first class, which I did not know at the time.
I was six and she was twenty. She was very tall and thin, very nice, and somehow I knew that she had red hair. The principal was an older nun named Sister Aloysuis Marietta who was very strict. And at the other end of the spectrum there was Sister James, the youngest nun, who was very nice.
Asked what impressed her about her former pupil as a writer, Sister Peggy responded: "His openness to seeking the truth. He is a seeker and searcher - he doesn't proclaim things, he invites you, the audience, to join him in the experience of searching." She continued, "I really got into that play. I nearly cried when, at the end, Cherry Jones as Sister Aloysius finally admitted her own doubts.
"No one has complete certitude, but most people won't admit it, they pretend they know exactly what's going on."
Sister Peggy describes another hero of hers. "I read Elie Weisel's book Night [about the Holocaust] and saw him on Oprah, when he spoke about how questions unite us but answers divide us. Note that the word 'question' has 'quest' in it. As long as we are on this journey or quest, it's a good thing. Somehow that hit me when I was watching Doubt; that I was getting the same feelings. John Patrick Shanley is a genius."
Asked if he feels he has changed Sister Peggy's life with Doubt, John Patrick says, "The fates change our lives. In fact, now she is helping as a technical advisor on the film. She will have a credit in the film and of course be paid - but she took the vow of poverty so she will turn her earnings over to the church."
Shanley concludes, "I dedicated Doubt to all the nuns, and I know she saw that in the program.
"That woman has done nothing but help children all her life, and I'm proud to say I was one of them."
Native Irish speaker from the Gaeltacht area of Gaoth Dobhair, County Donegal, Pdraig Cearill is the Language Lecturer of Irish Studies at New York University. As a professor of Irish, Cearill inspires interest in the difficult language that, despite its lack of practical application, is increasing in popularity.
For Irish studies students at NYU's Glucksman Ireland House, Pdraig's classes have an almost cult-like following. Incorporating various aspects of Irish culture with a strong emphasis on learning through songs and music, Cearill's classes spark an interest not just in the language but in all Irish cultural traditions.
The classes not only attract Irish-Americans but students from many other cultural backgrounds.
Pdraig's connection to his students has not gone unnoticed and in 2002 he was awarded the Golden Dozen Teaching Award based on students' response to the NYU College of Arts and Science Student Council Evaluation forms.
He holds degrees not only in Irish but in History and Education. Cearill came to NYU in 1995 as the Irish Language Lecturer and soon earned a second master's degree in Communication and Culture.
Aside from his busy teaching schedule Cearill finds time to work as an occasional correspondent for Irish media including RTE, Telefs na Gaeltachta and BBC Northern Ireland. Pdraig is also active in the traditional Irish folk music community as a singer and consultant for artists translating lyrics or struggling with pronunciation.
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