Stacey Louise Dillon, a native of Belfast, Northern Ireland, was a guest speaker in the Seminary’s “World Religions and Global Conflict” class on September 29th. Ms. Dillon serves as Intern Coordinator for Project Children, an organization which has brought together more than 22,000 Protestant and Catholic children over the past thirty-six years.
Ms. Dillon noted virtually no families are untouched by sectarian violence in Northern Ireland from 1968-98 known as “The Troubles.” Although paramilitary violence ended with the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, she pointed out that Northern Ireland remains segregated along religious lines. It is not unusual, she said, for Protestant or Catholic children never to have had a conversation with a counterpart from the other faith community. Some 41 “Peace Walls” or “Walls of Shame” between Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods in Belfast are a stark reminder of the fragile peace that exists.
Project Children (www.projectchildren.org) was founded in 1975 by Denis Mulcahy, a New York police officer originally from County Cork, Ireland. He, his brother and friends initially raised funds for six Northern Ireland children, three Protestant and three Catholic, to spend their summer vacation with American host families, Protestant and Catholic children paired together. The project eventually brought as many as 900 children a summer hosted by families in 20 states with additional follow-up and programs in Northern Ireland. The project also focuses on older teens and college students, arranging internships and volunteer work with Habitat for Humanity, most recently in New Orleans.
Seminarians were impressed that all Project Children workers are volunteers including host families, area co-ordinators, fund-raisers, benefactors, and its founder, Denis Mulcahy who continues with the NYPD. Ms. Dillon, as intern coordinator, is in the U.S. for a year as a field engineer for Durr Mechanical, a leading Engineering company in Manhattan. It was agreed that this is a great model of interfaith peace-building.