Mercy Sister Christine Hennessy has two families: first, the one begun by her Irish immigrant parents; the other, the religious congregation began by Mother Catherine McAuley in Dublin in 1831.
It’s no surprise then that those influences helped forge her ministry as a Catholic Charities social worker for Project Irish Outreach in Yonkers for the past 22 years.
Project Irish Outreach, housed in the Aisling Center on McLean Avenue in the Westchester County city’s Emerald Mile section, was begun in 1987 out of St. Brendan’s Parish in the North Bronx at the height of that decade’s large Irish immigrant influx to New York.
The Irish culture is very much alive.
In the Yonkers neighborhood, dotted with gift shops and restaurants, “The Irish culture is very much alive,” noted Sister Christine, a regular part of the city’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which this year will be held on Saturday, March 18.
Now there are fewer young immigrants, in part because Ireland is a more prosperous country and legal documentation in the United States is harder to obtain.
Still the Aisling Center offers support for young mothers and Irish culture lessons in language and dancing. Much of Sister Christine’s work is assisting immigrants without documentation find health care and other services. She also works as a chaplain with the Irish Committee for Prisoners Overseas, an Irish government project that maintains contact with incarcerated Irish citizens.
In that role, she is a presence to prisoners in the metropolitan area, often connecting them with their families, both in Ireland and the United States, as well as sharing books and other resources.
“Some of the prisoners don’t have many visitors,” she said, and the contact with the outside world is appreciated by them and their families.
I am grateful to help people in need at different times in their lives.
“As a social worker I am grateful to help people in need at different times in their lives,” said Sister Christine. She also extends her help to the Catholic Charities Community Services office on Hawthorne Street in Yonkers, serving a largely Spanish-speaking community. In her 61 years of religious life she has also served in East Harlem.
“I grew up very close to my Irish culture,” she said. Her parents came from County Galway and County Cork, and she is in regular contact with her cousins in Ireland. Her brother, Father Patrick Hennessy, was pastor at St. Brendan’s, and served the Archdiocese of New York until his death at 58 in 2004.
Click Here to view a Facebook video of Sr. Edna McNicholas and Sr. Christine Hennessy thanking Catholic Charities New York for providing services at the Aisling Irish Community Center