By Jim Smith
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — Dark skies and a thick fog hung over alumni Stadium Monday morning during commencement at Boston College, while outside dozens of protesters gathered to criticize the university for conferring an honorary Doctor of Laws degree on Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble.
The weather reflected the dispirited mood of many of the demonstrators who gathered in two groups on opposite sides of the stadium to hold signs and distribute leaflets critical of B.C. and the first minister of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
“This is a sad day,” said Eoin Gillespie, a Donegal native and resident of Walpole. “It’s disgraceful that a Catholic college would give an award to a bigot like Trimble.”
Many of the protesters, like Joe McHugh of Swampscott, were involved four years ago in the campaign to stop B.C. from honoring former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
“Next thing you know they’ll be digging up Oliver Cromwell to give him some kind of honor,” he said.
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Trimble, who received his award with little fanfare and polite applause from the students at the beginning of the exercises, was described during the award ceremony as having “dared to move Unionism toward an accommodation with nationalist aspirations for an agreement promising peace in a land close to the heart of this University . . . Boston College echoes the Norwegian judges’ admiration for [his] great political courage,” a reference to Trimble’s 1998 Nobel Peace Prize. None of the honorary degree recipients addressed the students.
The UUP spokeswoman for Northern America Anne Smith said Trimble had received words of encouragement and support from several prominent members of the Irish-American community.
“I was encouraged by the number of prominent people in the Irish-American community in Boston who had contacted the people who were threatening to protest and told them they were wrong,” she said.
Jack Meehan, national treasurer of the AOH, called the B.C. honor “unconscionable.” He said paying tribute to Trimble is “a slap in the face” to the working-class Irish-Catholic families who paid the tuitions when B.C. was predominantly a commuter school.
Denise Delaney of the Irish American Unity Conference said that she was shocked when she first heard about the award. “This man is the main reason the peace process is going to hell in a hand basket,” she said.
C.J. Doyle, executive director of the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts carried a sign reading “Ignatius Wept,” referring to St. Ignatius of Loyola, the 16th century founder of the Society of Jesus.
“St. Ignatius founded the Society of Jesus to convert the world to the Catholic faith,” Doyle said. “B.C., a Jesuit college, is giving an award to a member of an organization [Orange Order] which teaches that the Catholic religion is one of error and superstition.”
Doyle said that B.C. is losing its Catholic identity, has become an international school for the wealthy and is virtually inaccessible to Irish-Catholic students from working-class families in Boston. “Giving Trimble the award today is just another indication of how badly this city needs a good Catholic university,” he said.
A full-page ad ran in Monday’s edition of the Boston Herald in which Irish Americans Against Bigotry and Racism called on Trimble to renounce the anti-Catholic oath of the Orange Order.
Mitchell at Fordham
Former U.S. Senator George Mitchell was honored last week at Fordham University’s commencement ceremony, where he addressed graduating students with American magician David Copperfield.
Both men received honorary degrees from the university where Mitchell will join the faculty of the School of Law in September as a visiting professor.
Mitchell told students that real fulfillment came not from leisure, idleness, or self-indulgence but in striving for a worthwhile objective with all one’s physical and spiritual might.
Mitchell helped broker the Good Friday peace agreement and the university honored the patience, subtle intelligence and personal integrity required in peacemaking.