NOW FOR THE NEXT 175 YEARS!
St. Pat’s rolls out its plan for the future
175 years seemed like a long journey. Particularly when we realized that we weren't even half way! It was a good time to survey the landscape, as it were. Where was it we came from? Where are we? Where do we want to go?
We could see that some troubling trends would make the forward journey harder. There were fewer of us now. And we were older. What to do?
We sat down, consulted the map and realized we needed to ask our fellow travellers where the next leg of the journey should go. So the strategic planning process was launched in June 2008 and the key to the plan would be what we learned from the community survey which was rolled out in Spring 2009.
St. Patrick's Society (SPS) has always been a broad-based organization the success of whose mission is measured not by its own strength, but by how well it contributes to the entire community. So SPS was and is instrumental in providing the funding needed by cultural organizations like Cine Gael and Siamsa, charities like Leave Out Violence and Benedict Labre House and, of course, was a founding contributor and continues to be a major supporter of Canadian Irish Studies at Concordia University.
The survey was sent to all members of SPS and to all Irish community organizations. We had over 250 responses which was impressive because many of the questions required a time-consuming written narrative with suggestions for improvement. It was clear to us that the community, whatever its challenges, remains energetic and enthusiastic about its future. The results were presented to the AGM in June, are summarized in this article and available in full on the website at www.spsmtl.com - “A New Vision”.
WHO ARE WE?
According to recent census data, 406,000 people in Quebec describe themselves as being of Irish descent of whom 161,000 live in Montreal. Of these, a majority, 52%, are primarily French speaking.
However, as we know, the active Irish community in Montreal is overwhelmingly anglophone. Some 91% of those who answered the survey, which was sent to all the community organizations, described themselves as anglophone.
Only 23% of those who answered were under 40 years of age while 33% were over 61.
WHAT CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES FACE THE COMMUNITY?
The survey identified declining numbers, lack of interest of youth in community activities and insufficient community cohesion as the greatest challenges we face.
However, people also identified St. Patrick's Day, our successful events and a generally positive image in the community as strengths we could build upon.
HOW DOES THE REST OF THE COMMUNITY SEE SPS?
Here the clear message is that we have an image problem. We are seen as being primarily for the older generation, a large number don't know what we do (including – amazingly – some SPS members!) and we are seen as predominantly anglophone and catholic. The good news is that the community has a generally positive image of us but it's perhaps not the image we would like them to have!
The separate survey for SPS members focused more on our internal organization and what we in particular might need to do to meet the challenges that face the entire community. The first piece of good news was that most people felt the current mission is still relevant and should be maintained intact. As a reminder, this is summarized as fostering Irish culture and tradition, aiding people of Irish birth and origin and speaking on behalf of the Irish Canadian community.
While the mission survived intact, the consensus was that the by-laws needed some work. For example, most people believed we should remove the current requirement that full members must be of Irish birth or origin. An overwhelming 91% of respondents told us that a modernization of the by-laws was due.
We asked how SPS might engage more young people in what we do and we heard a lot about recruiting at schools and colleges, organizing events just for young people, using the internet more effectively and creating a separately governed youth branch.
WHAT DO YOU WANT US TO LOOK LIKE IN 2014?
What vision do people both inside and outside SPS have of what we will look like in 5 years? Here is what we heard. We will be:
Uniting the community
WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO TO GET THERE?
At the 2009 AGM, we announced a number of initiatives to begin process of change in the SPS. Three new task forces will be created in areas identified as being critical to the realization of the vision for 2014. These will be mandated to provide the board with concrete suggestions for change. They will have six months from the date of their set up to prepare their reports which the board will discuss and subsequently adopt those that are the most feasible.
The new task forces are:
By-law review to be headed by Patrick Shea
Uniting the community headed by Karen Bright and
Initiatives to engage youth headed by Julie Dunn
In addition, new mandates will be given to existing subcommittees who will also report back within six months:
Membership will be tasked with providing suggestions on how to broaden the membership base in particular how to appeal to francophones of Irish origin.
Communications will be asked to look at how we can be more present and effective on the internet.
There is still a lot of work to do and we're giving ourselves five years to do it. In the end, we hope to go beyond the level of respect we enjoy in the community today and ensure not only our own survival for the next 175 years but, through the contributions we make, solidly underpin and actively energize the vibrancy of the Irish community in Montreal, both English and French.
Ours is an old community, a founding community of this great city where our emblem still adorns the city flag. Our day of celebration, the feast of St. Patrick, is celebrated by more people in this city than any other national holiday and I dare to include St. Jean-Baptiste Day and Canada Day in that boastful claim! We are Irish, we are proud and we will continue to celebrate our unique culture and heritage and share it with our fellow Canadians.