Amid cries of protest from Irish-American organizations, alumni, faculty an even Irish and British Jesuits, Boston College has vowed to proceed with plan to award its prestigious Ignatius Medal to Margaret Thatcher, former prime minister of the United Kingdom, for her international and economic leadership.
The Jesuit-run college, which was founded to serve Irish Catholic immigrants, has refused to back down in the face of pressure from the Irish-American Unity Conference, the Ancient Order of Hibernians and other Irish group that are calling the decision to honor Thatcher "an outrage." A school spokesman said the institution anticipates raising $1 million for a scholarship fund from the dinner honoring Thatcher.
Outrage turned to disbelief when it was learned that the award would be presented in New York on May 5, the 14th anniversary of the death of Bobby Sands, the first of 10 Irish hunger strikers to die on Thatcher's watch.
"Just about every Irish organization, I would say, would not approve of the selection of Mrs. Thatcher to be awarded a medal, especially a medal by an Irish Catholic institution, due to her human rights record against the nationalist people in Northern Ireland," said Kathleen Regan, New York state director of the political education committee of the American Ireland Education Foundation.
Several groups have started telephone and letter-writing campaigns targeted at Jesuit Fr. J. Donald Monan, president of Boston College, who has the final word in accepting the award nominee.
Thatcher was nominated by the New York-based Wall Street Council, a group of alumni, parents and friends of Boston College. The council hosts the annual fundraising dinner at which the award, named for the founder of the Jesuit order, is presented.
According to Douglas Whiting, a spokesman for Boston College, about 600 calls and letters had been received as of Feb. 24, of which "a handful" threatened to withhold financial contributions to the school. Only 10 percent, he said, were from alumni.
The Wall Street Council is described by Whiting as a volunteer organization that was started 10 years ago to help management students in their introduction to the financial world. The group claims 125 members and for the past seven years has sponsored the annual award dinner.
Whiting would not provide names of alumni in the organization, saying the university protects the anonymity of the group because it is made up of volunteers. There is no telephone listing for the group in New York.
Whiting said the group chose Thatcher "for her leadership internationally through the decade of the '80s and the vision and firmness with which she tackled the complexities of the British economy."
Whiting told NCR that the timing of the event, which falls not only on Sands' anniversary but during the 150th anniversary year of the Irish famine that killed 7 million people, was a "terribly unfortunate coincidence" but that it is impossible to change the date because of hotel availability. Canceling the award, he added, is not a consideration.
"I think we are pretty certain that there will be sustained opposition through the date of the dinner, but the university believes it's made a sound decision to honor Mrs. Thatcher and certainly plans to hold the dinner," Whiting said. "One of the important things about the dinner is that we'll raise $1 million, much needed money for student scholarships."
There are already plans to stage a protest outside the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in Manhattan, where the dinner will be held.
The Ignatius Medal is Boston College's highest honor other than an honorary degree and was established 20 years ago. Until the Wall Street …