Ulster Project Delaware – from Dream to Reality to Vision

The Origins of the Ulster Project

Address by Sally Milbury-Steen at the 2012 UPD Public Reception

Joe McGivney, who has written a brief history of the first two years of Ulster Project Delaware, explains the origins of the Ulster Project this way:

“Ulster Project was founded by the Rev. Canon Albert Waterstone better known as “Kerry” Waterstone, who is a Church of Ireland Clergyman from the Republic of Ireland, now in retirement.   In the summer of 1974, Kerry exchanged pulpits with Rev. Steve Jacobsen, an Episcopal clergyman from Manchester, CT, a medium-sized city of over 49,000 near the central part of the state not far from Hartford.  Many of the residents in the town had grandparents who came to the U.S. from Northern Ireland.  Kerry and his wife Edie were impressed by the openness and diversity of American society and by the way in which clergy and laypeople from different religions worked together on projects that served the common good.  The Troubles in Northern Ireland came up frequently in conversation, and at the end of the summer, clergy in Manchester agreed to host a project the next summer in 1975 that would bring 15 year-old Northern Irish Catholic and Protestant teens to their town to help them build bonds of friendship and bridges of mutual understanding.  Kerry was able, when he returned home, to secure the cooperation of Protestant and Catholic clergy from Belfast, Armagh, and Portadown to involve youth from their various parishes in such a project.  The youth were chosen based on leadership potential and 15 year-olds – or young people between the ages of 14 – 16, were selected because they are more flexible and less rigid than their elders, but are at an age when it is possible to form and maintain lifelong friendships.  In late June 1975, a group of excited young people and their adult chaperones arrived in Manchester, CT for the very first Ulster Project program.  Ulster Project Delaware started the next year in 1976 and is now the oldest continuously running Ulster Project in the United States.  The project has now spread to over 25 communities throughout the U.S. in 17 different states and has touched the lives of over 7,000 Northern Irish teenagers and their U.S. host teens.”

But How did the Ulster Project Come to Delaware?

            If you notice on the front of your program, this is the Charles A. and Josephine R. Robinson Memorial Reception.  It is dedicated to their memory because they were the people who brought the Ulster Project to Delaware.  It happened this way.  One night in probably 1974 or early 1975, Jo Robinson had a dream about bringing Northern Irish Catholic and Protestant teenagers together in Delaware where they could experience first hand religious diversity and cultural pluralism.  That Jo should dream of children was not unusual, because their home, Hartefeld, was full of young people from all over the world.  Charlie, who was the President of the Delaware Trust Bank at the time, and Jo had six children of their own and then adopted eight more children, including several from overseas.  The thing about great dreams is that they keep coming back, so Jo shared her recurrent dream with Charlie and they began praying about it.  They mentioned their dream to many people from family members, members of their Catholic parish, and to Steve Daley of the Irish International Teachers Association who for a couple of years in the 1970’s had been bringing a group of Irish teachers over to the University of Delaware for several weeks in the summer.  In 1975 when he was returning to Dublin, the flight was delayed, so the airline company, to cushion the disappointment of hours and hours of waiting, let them stay in the VIP Lounge at KennedyAirport.  And guess who else was in the lounge waiting for that same flight?  Canon Kerry Waterstone and the teenagers who had just finished their Ulster Project stay in Manchester, CT.  Steve Daly began talking to Kerry Waterstone – and Jo and Charlie Robinson’s prayers were answered in that contact made in an airport lounge.  God surely works in mysterious ways!  Steve gave Jo and Charlie, Kerry’s phone number and they wasted no time in contacting him.  Kerry Waterstone, later said, “The telephone call from Charlie Robinson was the answer to my prayers.  I had wanted to expand the project beyond Manchester to other cities in the United States.”  Rev. Waterstone suggested taking young people from Portadown, an industrial town 25 miles southwest of Belfast.

Charlie Robinson was one of the founders of Pacem in Terris, so he approached the Pacem in Terris Executive Director, Charlie Zoeller and asked him if Pacem in Terris would be willing to handle the project, secure host families, plan activities, etc., and give it an organizational home.  All expenses would be paid by the Robinsons during that first year.  The Pacem in Terris Board of Directors approved handling the proposed project and in March 1976 Charlie Zoeller formed an Operating Committee to work on the project.  In early April 1976, Charlie Robinson visited Portadown with Rev. Kerry Waterstone and on April 8, 1976 they met to interview the 28 young people and their parents who would be coming to Wilmington from July 25 – August 15 that summer.  This meeting was held in the local hospital in Portadown because it was considered the safest place to hold a mixed meeting of Protestants and Catholics at that time.

From 1976 – 1983 UPD worked with the town of Portadown, then in 1984 the project moved to Banbridge, and in 1989 it moved to Coleraine.  Beginning in 1995, the current rotational system among the three towns was started.  We now spend two years in Portadown, then cycle to Banbridge for two years, then on to Coleraine for two.  This is our first year in Coleraine in six years and we will remain in Coleraine for UPD 2013.  Following that, we will rotate on to Portadown for UPD 2014 and 2015.

Although Charlie Robinson died in 1997 and Jo passed away the next year, Ulster Project Delaware remains their living legacy – a testament to their profound faith, their love for children, and their unshakable belief that if we want peace, we must begin with young people, giving them opportunities to get to know one another and to discover their common humanity.  Since it was started in 1976, Ulster Project Delaware, counting our 2012 teens, has brought a total of 710 Northern Irish teenagers and 136 adult leaders to our area, touching their lives and those of their host teens and families in significant, heart and mind-changing ways.  Jo’s dream became an on-going and vibrant reality, because it was truly a vision.  It was a  positive vision of reconciliation and hope – a vision of the in-breaking of God’s peace that under girds the miracle that happens when we go from being strangers who view one another across a divide to becoming a circle of friends that includes everyone.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was one of the great 20th century prophets of nonviolence and reconciliation once said, “We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.  And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.  For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be.  And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.  This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.”

And, this, my dear UPD teens is my prayer and hope for each of you this month – that you will experience this miracle of mutuality and interconnectedness – of friendship in abundance during our four weeks together.  May God bless you all and make each day special.  Thank you.

Dr. Sally Milbury-Steen guided Ulster Project Delaware as Executive Director of  Pacem in Terris and Ulster Project Delaware from 1985 until her retirement in 2012.  In 2013 Sally received the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws (LLD) from the University of Ulster in recognition of her contribution to peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland. Sally’s Acceptance Speech, July 2, 2013