(Above: Friendly Sons President Joseph P. Heenan with gathering of Gala Attendees greet Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Irish Ambassador Anne Anderson | photos – Tom Keenan)
By Russell W. Wylie
The Society of The Friendly Sons of St. Patrick for the Relief of Emigrants from Ireland celebrated its 246th Annual St. Patrick’s Day Gala-) at the Aronimink Golf Club in Newtown Square on March 11, 2017. It proved to be a spectacular event that exceeded the grandeur of the Gala of the preceding year.
That 245th Annual Gala had sold out weeks ahead of time celebrating the first time in the Society’s 245 year history that women were admitted as members to this traditional male-only Irish American fraternal organization. Anne Anderson, Ireland’s first woman Ambassador to the United States, became the first female member of the Society that remarkable evening of March 12, 2016.
A momentum began building early for the 246th Gala to become the preeminent annual celebration of the Society. The event sold out over two months in advance pushing the capacity of the grand ballroom of Aronimink Golf Club to accommodate the 330 attendees. Craig L. Adams, PECO President and CEO, was the Guest of Honor bringing the support of Philadelphia’s huge electric utility with a donation of $15,000 to bolster the continuation of the Society’s benevolent programs.
The generosity of individual member support and many businesses taking ads in the program book boosted the net profit for the event to reach $56,000; double the net profit achieved by the prior year’s event.
The traditional entertainment featured the Emerald Society Pipe Band providing their rousing bagpipe music, the McDade-Cara School of Irish Dance thrilling the audience with Irish step and figure dancing, and the Rich Posmontier Music Ensemble playing pop music favorites which kept the dance floor full all evening.
President Joseph P. Heenan introduced three distinguished guests which he referred to as “The Friendly Sons of St. Patrick’s Irish Trifecta”: Taoiseach (Prime Minister of Ireland) Enda Kenny, Ambassador Anne Anderson, and New York Consul General Barbara Jones.
The representatives from other historical fraternal societies of Philadelphia were next introduced who have been traditional guests at the galas.
President Heenan was proud to announce the Society had just exceeded a milestone of $500,000 in endowed scholarships established with nine Philadelphia area universities and schools including: Arcadia University, Camphill Special Schools, Cabrini University, Gwynedd Mercy University, Immaculata University, Neumann University, Rosemont College, Saint Joseph’s University, and Villanova Univ-ersity.
Guest Speaker Craig L. Adams, who also serves as the Board chairperson of Camphill Special School, complimented the Society as well as the many employees of PECO for their support of benevolent community organization projects and initiatives.
It is significant to note that Taoiseach Kenny chose to attend the Gala to give recognition of the benevolent work of The Society of The Friendly Sons of St. Patrick for the Relief of Emigrants from Ireland and preside at the Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day Parade the next day. This marked the first leg of the Irish Prime Minister’s visit to a number of major cities in the eastern half of the United States culminating with a meeting later in the week with President Donald Trump for the first time at a series of events at the White House and Capitol Hill in observation of St. Patrick’s Day.
The Taoiseach’s address to the crowd gathered at the Aronimink Golf Club was received with appreciation punctuated by cascades of enthusiastic standing ovations. President Heenan initially introduced the Taoiseach as a person “who has devoted his life to serving the Irish people following a tradition of his family’s political leadership” and having roots in County Mayo “where both he and his father before him were noted for their support and participation in the nation’s most popular sport of Gaelic Football.”
The Taoiseach began by stating he was “honored to be here in Philadelphia in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, where Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell are enduring symbols of what liberty and freedom actually mean. The fact that this is the 246th dinner highlights the unique and pioneering and steadfast leadership that this organization and those that set it up in their vision have given in their nurturing the connections, the kinship between Ireland and the United States of America.”
The Taoiseach went on to say, “The Friendly Sons and the Irish of Philadelphia have defined the story and the identity of the Irish here in the United States. You have anchored our story in our best selves and that’s a really important thing to say. Our shared Irish – American values are of solidarity, of equality, of community, of human dignity, of freedom, and of democracy. Your mission and your noble purpose continues to endure.”
Taoiseach Kenny stated he “was delighted last year that your pioneering Irish American spirit and commitment to equality lead you to the historic decision to admit women members. I salute that decision. Of course a very significant priority for Ambassador Anderson during her time here has been to address the plight of the undocumented Irish. You chose to honor our great Ambassador to the United States by conferring the honor of Anne Anderson being the first ever woman member. I am very grateful that you did so – her record of service to Ireland is stellar and in honoring our ambassador you honored the leadership of all women.”
The Taoiseach further com-mented, “I’d also like to commend the Friendly Sons for supporting the Irish Immigration Center in Philadelphia and the work that the Irish Immigration Center does.” He noted that the decision by the United Kingdom to leave the European Union as having “implications for everyone in Ireland (North and South) and indeed around the world.”
Kenny spoke of Ireland “emer-ging strongly from the most vicious economic recession that we’ve ever faced” and he remarked proudly that Ireland has “been the leading growth country in Europe for the last four years.” He stressed the importance of training future generations in technology, engin-eering and science merged with the cultivation of their imaginative and creative qualities to “get the best of both worlds” and generate the “steam” to drive the companies and nations that they will lead to success in an increasingly challenging world.
President Heenan had previously noted during the presentation of the framed membership scrolls to Taoiseach Enda Kenny; Craig L. Adams, PECO President and CEO; and, New York Consul General Barbara Jones that “they now join the ranks of President George Washington, President Andrew Jackson, President Ulysses S. Grant, President Harry Truman, and President Ronald Reagan who were all members of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick.”
The Taoiseach noted that “sixty years ago in 1957 another person who was to become President of the United States spoke to the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, and that was John F. Kennedy. He spoke of the emerald thread that runs through the links between Philadelphia and Ireland when he address this august occasion sixty years ago.”Kenny closed by declaring “these connections are stronger than ever between Ireland and the United States, and long may they continue to be so.” A letter sent by the Taoiseach to President Heenan two weeks following the Gala expressed gratitude for his “continued leadership of the Society, and the Irish community in Philadelphia.” The letter further expressed appreciation that “the Society of the Friendly Sons (and now Daughters) of St. Patrick has never strayed from its mission to support Irish emigrants to American shores. The Society has steadfastly held true to its purpose, assisting generations of Irish in Philadelphia and the great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. This purpose has never been more important than it is now.”
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This writer reported in an article published in the July 2015 issue of the Irish Edition the newly elected President Heenan expressing a vision for the Friendly Sons to “open the Society up to a more inclusive environment by not excluding women into the Society as full members” and emphasizing “a renewed focus of liberty and charity” for this historic Irish American fraternal organization. It is with deep appreciation and admiration that I am pleased to observe this new leadership of the Society has achieved and, in fact, exceeded those expectations.
Russell W. Wylie is the secretary
and a past president of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick.
Russell Wylie Receives President’s Award
President Joseph P. Heenan Awards The Friendly Sons of St. Patrick Society’s Presidents Award:
“The Society’s President during their final term recognizes one member who has demonstrated an unselfish willingness to give of their time and talents to serve the society’s goals.
This award has always been given to a highly qualified individual and I can say without hesitation that there are none more deserving then tonight’s recipient. It’s been said that were you to look up in the dictionary the word “Gentleman” you would surely find his name written there.
You could fill not only a dictionary but also a few books with notes of this individual’s many acts of kindness, friendship and charity.
He is an example of all that is exceptional in our society; were we to look for a role model for our current and future members we could hardly find a better one than he.
It is my honor to declare Mr. Russell W. Wylie the Society’s 2017 Presidential Award recipient.
Russ, in gratitude and on behalf of the members of the Society we would like to present you with a check for $1,000 to be issued to a charity of your designation.”
(Russ returned the check as a charitable contribution to the Society.)