Moyvane woman is one of US’s most influential Irish-American women

by Dónal Nolan — The Kerryman Newspaper

Celine Kennelly
Celine receiving her award with Irish Ambassador to the U.S.,
Michael Collins and Irish Voice Editor, Niall O’Dowd.
A Moyvane woman working with the undocumented Irish in San Francisco has been named as one of the 50 most influential Irish women in the United States.

Celine Kennelly, the director of the San Francisco Irish Immigrant Pastoral Centre, was feted at the residence of the Irish Consul General in New York alongside 49 other notables of the Irish American community for her unstinting work on behalf of our undocumented emigrants in the West Coast city.

Conceived, compiled an short-listed by Niall O’Dowd’s Irish Voice newspaper, the awards came as major recognition for all recipients — and a source of important publicity for the plight of illegal Irish in Celine’s case. A daughter of Anna Maria and Timmy Kennelly, Celine has proved herself a tireless campaigner for greater rights – not least an amnesty – for undocumented in the nine years she has worked with the centre. She told The Kerryman that she was absolutely ‘delighted’ with the award.

“It’s certainly highlighted the work of the Pastoral Centre, one of nine such centres in various American cities, and it’s great to see the work we do being recognised. One main aim of the awards, aside from recognising everyone’s work, was to give us a chance to network and strengthen our Irish-American base,” Celine explained.

With the recent downturn in the economy here, Celine has witnessed a climb once again in the numbers of illegal Irish in San Francisco. Her job through the centre – which was established by the Catholic Church ten years ago – sees her looking after their welfare across a wide range of services, from practical support to far-sighted policy implementation.

“What we’re most proud of is the level of community ownership. It’s the community who provides most of our funding and this relationship is very important to us.” Increasingly, Celine and her team are to be found helping Irish deal with substance additions – a major part of the pastoral centre’s brief and one that’s met with great success in recent times. Key to the success of the centre is its confidentiality and the knowledge that no details will be passed to immigration police.

“Although the climate has changed so much in American since 9/11. It really has become a closed shop now in terms of allowing people to immigrate here and work and contribute to the economy. Our biggest problem is simply that we can’t get people legalised. In the past few years they’ve created a system that doesn’t work; the best and brightest can’t come here and it’s all about enforcement now. We’re just hopeful that things might change under the new administration, whoever that may be.”

Celine Kennelly