independent

Monday 23 April 2018

Sligoman had helped thousands of Irish immigrants in Boston

Obituary

A leading member of the Irish community in Boston who was a native of Sligo has passed away

William 'Bill' McGowan died on Saturday, September 16th surrounded by his loving family. Wake and Funeral was held at St. Elizabeth's Parish at Milton on September 22nd and 23rd. Bill had been a leader in Boston's Irish community for five decades, helping people with everything from immigration issues, fundraising, sport, housing, insurance and taxes. Bill was the seventh of eleven children born in Cloona, County Sligo. He has survving brothers and sisters still living in the county.

Bill entered the seminary as a teenager, joining the missionary Society of St. James the Apostle, a group that sends priests to missionary service in the poorest countries of South America.

The society was founded by Boston's Richard Cardinal Cushing.

Assigned to Bolivia in 1966, Bill travelled from village to village, setting up credit unions for the poor and finding ways to improve social and educational conditions.

In 1970, deciding that "God would call him to other things in life," he left the priesthood and moved to Boston.

In 1972, he married Bridget Reaney from Connemara, County Galway and both became active in Boston's Irish community.

Bill helped form the Shannon Blues Gaelic Football Club in 1974 and was active in the Gaelic Athletic Association, serving as chairman of the New England Board and on the national Board. In 1978, Bill started an accounting firm and began helping Irish immigrants and local residents with their tax returns.

In 1985, Bill opened Parkman's corner store on Centre Street in Dorchester. This was a gathering place for Irish immigrants. Many were undocumented, leaving home for green pastures but unable to secure a visa to stay in America.

Seeing a need, Bill stepped in to help. On July 12, 1985, McGowan and others launched the newly-formed Massachusetts Immigration Committee, serving as chairman.

Its daunting mission was to convince congress to amend the 1965 US Immigration Act, which unintentionally blocked people from Ireland and other countries like Italy, Germany and Greece from getting permanent US visas.

Dorchester's own Brian Donnelly had just filed a bill in the House, and the Committee's goal was to gain support in the Senate too.

What began as a meeting of 60 people at the Irish Social Club quickly became a national movement with ethnic groups across the country joining forces to advocate, publicize and coordinate a broad based effort for immigration reform.

In the fall of 1986, Congress passed the US Immigration and Control Act, including the Donnelly Visa which allotted 40,000 permanent visas to Europe and of which 18,363 went to the Irish. In 1997, Bill started a Boston fundraiser for his youngest Sister Jo Goretti, who was assigned to a Catholic parish in Lagos, Nigeria.

Over a few years, Bill and his Committee raised nearly $900,000 to build a new school with libraries, computers and a day care centre.

Today, over 2,000 children attend the school, with 37 teachers all trained by the Irish nuns. In 2007, Bill relocated his tax and accounting firm McTaxes Incorporated to Quincy, where they continue to this day to help the local and Irish community with financial, tax and accounting needs.

Bill was also honoured when awarded the Sligo Association of Boston's Man of the Year award, presented at its annual St. Patrick's Day banquet.

Bill was a father figure, mentor and guidance counsellor to many. He will be sadly missed by his loving wife Bridget, family, colleagues and friends.

Sligo Champion

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