Brendan McPartlin is a member of the Jesuit community in Churchill Park, Portadown, in Northern Ireland. Pat Coyle of Irish Jesuit Communications visited him there recently. She spoke with him about the Jesuit ministry in the Portadown-Craigavon area since it began in the early ’80s with the late Paddy Doyle SJ, former Irish Jesuit Provincial. In those day the Jesuits came to Churchill Park on the Garvaghy Road to simply be a presence to the beleaguered people who lived there who suffered from poverty and sectarian violence. The area made world headlines when the Orange Order demanded the right to march through this nationalist area.
In this interview, Brendan explains how nowadays the situation for the people is much improved. The area itself is in much better shape. The Orangemen still demand the right to march down the Garvaghy Road but are not allowed to, though they still march to the start of the road every week before being turned back, says Brendan.
The violence has stopped, but the Jesuits are involved in reconciliation and building the peace, work that must go on, according to Brendan. He discusses the cross-community work they are involved in, including his hosting of a theological study group in the house in Churchill Park which is attended mostly by members of the protestant community.
One of the big changes in the locality over the last 10 years has been the arrival of migrants from Africa, Eastern Europe, and Asia. The Portadown-Craigavon area has the largest density of migrants in Northern Ireland. According to Brendan, they are hard-working people who have helped improve the local economy, often doing jobs that others are reluctant to take on.
The Jesuits have set up the Migrant Support Service in Portadown to assist the migrant community. Portadown’s Drumcree Community Trust is chaired by Michael Bingham SJ, and it has employed two part-time, bi-lingual support workers to work with the children of immigrant families in the area. The two, one Polish and the other Portuguese, are assisting primary school children with their homework and with integration into the Community Centre activities. Brendan works with lay people in the centre providing advice and support in a variety of ways as he explains in this interview.