Brian Stack CIE tours & William Ford  at the 26th Annual  Irish America Business 100

I had the rare pleasure of spending time with four great Irish Americans this past week. Two were honored by our publication, the Irish Voice, and the other by Irish America magazine.

Father Joe O’Hare, former head of Fordham University, was the Lifetime Achievement awardee at our Irish Education 100 event held at the Irish consul’s residence in New York.

Over 100 people attended our event, hosted by Consul General Noel Kilkenny and his wife Hanora, including bishops, college presidents and senior academics who do so much to drive awareness of Ireland and Irish America.

Sister Jeanne O’Loughlin also merited special attention with a Lifetime Achievement Award. She ran Barry University in Miami for many years and became a fearless and committed supporter of her college, raising over $200 million for it and transforming the campus from one with less than 2,000 students when she took over to close to 10,000 when she left.

Irish Americans are great educators because our skill is communication, or gift of the gab if you like. The Catholic school system in this country was created by Irish nuns and priests who showed the same fire and drive to educate the children of America as they had shown in Ireland.

In my remarks I talked about the penal laws, imposed by the British in the 18th century. They singled out priests and teachers and put prices on their heads.

They knew full well that the rebellious Irish would never change their religion and bow to the crown as long as educators taught them the old Gaelic ways and their proud history.

Father O’Hare has been a friend for years and now, in retirement, retains the same grace, dignity and Irish humor that has always marked him out for me as one of the great Irish American leaders.

His accomplishments with Fordham are many, creating one of the finest Catholic universities in America. His time in office there was marked by the number of times senior political figures approached him to chair key commissions such as the New York City Campaign Finance Board.

As New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, “He has the moral force of a person who is utterly honest and represents only good ideas.”

The following day at the Metropolitan Club in New York before 200 invited guests Irish America magazine, our sister publication, honored William Ford, great grandson of Henry, where he gave an extraordinary speech about his Irish heritage, the Ford family and the future of the automobile.

You could see why Ford alone of all the car manufacturers emerged triumphant out of the latest recession with a man like William Ford at the helm.

He spoke of the future in visionary terms, of cars already in development that are so smart that accidents will be cut down by 80%.

Then he spoke of his recent visit to Ireland with his family and the tremendous reception they receive there. He talked about Henry Ford overruling his board back in 1917 and setting up an automobile company in Ireland, in his father’s native Cork, which employed an incredible 8,000 people at its height.

The magazine also honored Jim Quinn, president of Tiffany, one of the great worldwide brands, who has globally expanded the brand to countries such as China where they have been hugely successful.

Like the others Quinn also gives back, being very active on many charities and Irish educational organizations.

All in all an uplifting week and a high note to end the year on!

Happy Holidays, and see you all in 2012!