by Michael P. Quinlin
(Pittsburgh) –Sister Patricia McCann taught Catholic Church history at St. Vincent’s College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, and is today an archivist at Carlow University, a Catholic women’s school in Pittsburgh.
She belongs to the Sisters of Mercy order and has worked her whole life on issues of social justice.
She is actively campaigning for the Obama/Biden ticket in Pennsylvania.
Across town, Jim Lamb, who has been involved in economic development in Northern Ireland for over fifteen years and comes from a well-known Irish-American political family, has organized a coalition of Irish-Americans to campaign for Obama/Biden in western Pennsylvania.
McCann and Lamb are part of a robust movement of Irish-Americans and Catholics in western Pennsylvania who are holding rallies, staffing phone banks and organizing voter registration drives over the next month.
Their success may well influence whether Barak Obama or John McCain becomes the next president of the United States. In key states like Pennsylvania and Ohio, Catholic and ethnic communities have emerged as crucial voters being targeted in this election.
Organizers here are urging voters not to cast their ballot based on single-issues like abortion or immigration, two hot-button issues for American Catholics and Irish-Americans. Instead, they say, voters should arguably consider a broader range of issues that speak to the larger issues dominating this election, especially the war and the economy.
Last week a group called “Catholics for Obama,” organized by Cody Fischer, Deputy Director of Catholic Vote, met at Carlow University to discuss the Catholic perspective.
Keynote speaker Nick Cafardi, dean of Duquesne University Law School and former general counsel for the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, missed the meeting due to a family emergency.
But his speech, “Senator Obama: A Moral Choice for Catholics” was read aloud to the 75 people in attendance.
The lecture sought to define the term pro-life as having a larger meaning than just the abortion issue. The term must also include genocide, war, slavery, violence toward women, and other ‘intrinsic evils’ as defined by the Catholic Church.
Said Cafardi, “Senator Obama supports government action that would reduce the number of abortions. He has consistently said that “we should be doing everything we can to avoid unwanted pregnancies that might even lead somebody to consider having an abortion.””
The lecture prompted a lively discussion over whether Catholics should be “single-issue voters.” In the audience were pro-life students who had come from Franciscan University in Steubenville, OH, to voice their views.
McCann attended the meeting, and said later that Obama’s perspective is compatible with her lifelong activism in social justice issues like the Vietnam War and Civil Rights.
“Most of my friends are Obama supporters. Most of us have worked with the poor and with people not at the top of the socio-economic scale. We look at pro-life in a larger sense,” she said, adding, “When economic times are good, abortions go down.”
The Pittsburgh Irish
The following night Lamb’s group, “Pittsburgh Irish for Obama,” held a debate party at Mullaney’s Harp & Fiddle in Pittsburgh, where leaders from the Ancient Order of Hibernians and Irish American Unity Conference joined a variety of campaign workers, community activists and public officials committed to the Democratic ticket.
Attending from Pittsburgh’s Irish-American political establishment was Michael Lamb, City of Pittsburgh Controller, who met Obama’s ethnic outreach supporters at the Democratic National Convention in Denver in August.
Since then he has been volunteering with his brother Jim to help organize the Pittsburgh vote.
Jamie Rooney and Anne Gleeson, who worked for former US Congressman Bill Coyne from Pittsburgh, attended the event, along with AOH leaders Denny Donnelly, Rich O’Malley and Tommy Long, and Sarah McAuliffe Bellin and Jim Caldwell of the Irish American Unity Conference.
In the battle between Obama and McCain in Pennsylvania, a key factor in tipping the scales toward Obama may well be Joe Biden, who is popular with both Irish-American and Catholic communities throughout the state.
Mary Ester Van Shura, a longtime activist involved in Democratic politics for nearly thirty years, is a friend of Biden’s sister, Valarie Biden Owens, one of Senator Biden’s key advisors.
Van Shura says that Biden “epitomizes the Irishness of life, which is a life driven by passion and principle, courage and commitment, and faith and fortitude.”
She says that Biden “kept faith with the needs of the American people so they can all achieve the life envisioned by our ancestors when they left distant shores. Indeed, he is 'one of us.'"
This article appeared in the Irish Echo newspaper on October 8-14, 2008.