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Faculty Named Top Irish Educators

Special Projects Editor

Published: Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Updated: Thursday, January 17, 2013 00:01

Six Boston College faculty members were recently named to Irish Voice newspaper’s 2012 Irish Educators 100 list. The newspaper recognized Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J., Seamus Connolly, Mike Cronin, Thomas Groome, Joseph Nugent, and James Smith for their contributions to higher education.

Irish Voice, a small newspaper created in 1987 to address the needs and interests of Irish immigrants, published the first Irish Education 100 list in 2009 in order to highlight the achievements of Irish educators in the U.S.

Groome is the chairperson of the Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry department at BC’s School of Theology and Ministry and has been working in theology and religious education for 37 years.

“How we educate in faith is an ultimate issue,” Groome said. “There’s nothing more life-giving than good religion, there’s nothing more destructive than bad religion, and there’s nothing as inevitable as educating in ways that are life-giving.”
To this end, Groome said that he is committed to sharing his own faith tradition in positive, liberating ways that will help people in turn commit themselves to social justice and equality of life.

Nowadays, however, leading a religious life is not expected of everybody. Groome said that in a post-modern world, people have a choice about which religion, if any, they will follow. “Whatever faith people come to is more likely to be a chosen faith, a faith that is embraced out of conviction and with personal commitment,” he said. Rather than scare people into adhering to Catholicism, or any other religion, Groome said that the Church must instead explain its values in order to attract people to the faith.

Nugent also understands this changing world’s effects on education. He is a professor of English and Irish studies, specializing in the works of James Joyce, and has also been deeply involved in what he calls the digital humanities.

The students in his last advanced topic seminar created a digital textbook of Joyce’s short story collection Dubliners. The e-book, which Nugent said will be commercially available for free by next March, features video and written commentary from students, contemporary films, music, and photos, and annotations.

 “What the digital humanities has enabled us to do, what my class tried to do, is to produce a horizontal model,” he said. “I like to think that my students are actually manufacturers of information. They’re not simply absorbing the stuff … they’re sharing with colleges out there, indeed you might say, with their peers throughout the world.”
With all of the updates and shifts that are constantly taking place in education, tradition can sometimes be overlooked. Connolly aims to prevent that through his music. As BC’s artist in residence, Connolly oversees classes in Irish dance, tin whistle, fiddle, and flute, and teaches some of these courses as well. He also organizes concerts with visiting musicians and has contributed a large part of his collection of audio and visual recordings to BC’s archives.

“When I was growing up in Ireland, music was at a low ebb,” Connolly said. Nevertheless, he grew up learning from and listening to old masters of Irish music.

By the time he arrived in the US. traditional songs were becoming more popular. “I found out and was amazed at the great interest there was among Irish and Irish-Americans and Americans of other ethnicities to know about Ireland and Irish music and the heritage,” he said.

Connolly has also been impressed by his students’ creativity, which he said stems from their exposure to various cultures and ability to incorporate some of these elements into Irish music. While Connolly says this gives culture and tradition life, he hopes tradition will not be changed too much.

“Deviation is very important, but so is that they appreciate and respect from whence the music came and the people that I got it from,” he said. “They shouldn’t be forgotten about.”
Cronin, the academic director of BC in Ireland, is responsible for all BC students studying abroad in that country. His department also carries out research for BC’s Irish Institute, which he said conducts research and contributes to the ongoing peace process in Northern Ireland.

Cronin considers business an important but overlooked factor in Ireland’s development.

“For many BC students who graduate in the coming years, the opportunities afforded by Ireland, as a place to work and do business, are huge,” he said in an email. “It’s a place that is about more than misty hills and pints of Guinness, but rather is a key driver in US. European business, and in particular IT, relations.”
Smith is an associate professor in BC’s English department and also teaches in the Irish Studies department. He focuses on Irish literature and culture and has done extensive research on the oppressive conditions Irish women faced in Magdalene Laundries, or rehabilitation centers for supposedly morally deficient women. He co-authored the Justice for Magdalenes group’s submission to the Irish Human Rights Commission and the UN Commission Against Torture.

Leahy has also committed himself to the research of 20th century American social and religious history, particularly that of the developments in higher education during that time period.


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