President Halpin selected “Commit to the Future” as the Virginia state slogan for the 2017-2019 term. This phrase is easy to remember, and he believed it would inspire some of the Hibernian Zeal we pledge to maintain while preserving our traditions and beliefs.
His goals were simple: Assure the long-term welfare of AOH in Virginia by retaining current bothers and focusing recruitment on men who can carry us forward. On retention, President Halpin echoed (former) National Rituals & Degrees Chairman J.J. Kelly’s view that Hibernians who receive our Order’s Major Degrees are statistically more likely to remain active. At least sixty-three brothers stood for the Major Degrees in the past two years. There may have been more who received their degrees during the 2018 national convention. Virginia has grown in the past two years by about 100 men. President Halpin is very appreciative of National Organizer Tim McSweeney’s work in parceling our applications to us. This has proved to be very fruitful to Virginia.
Leadership: President Halpin asked division leaders to commit to a revitalization while recognizing that we’re all volunteers with competing responsibilities. A few divisions are electing volunteers who are new to AOH, leaders not inculcated with Hibernian processes, practices, history and traditions. They are frequently reminded that we’re bonded by our pledge, our Irish heritage, and our Catholicism. As volunteers we accept the duties and responsibilities as cited in our pledge: “I will at all times be zealous for the interests of this organization”. Halpin directed each division to appoint an organizer and sent every division president a copy of the AOH Officers Guide, our Manual, and the State By-Laws. Some divisions are innovating with new meeting venues, more post-meeting social engagement, guest speakers and outside social gatherings that attract new members. With this in mind, we’re developing a mentor-protégé program in which a “solid” division will assist another nearby division in need. Along that line, Halpin asked Hibernians to be visible in their Catholic communities – to wear AOH name badge to Mass. All this is a work in progress that paid off for Virginia.
Virginia and the IRS: By February 2018 most Virginia divisions had the IRS/Tax Exemption issue is behind them. Only one division is still outside the parameter and due to many circumstances (deaths of key brothers) the process was delayed. They are now in communication with Sean Pender to work out the details.
Virginia and Catholic Action: Virginia’s state treasurer reviewed 2017 financial reports and concluded that significant sums are held division treasuries. Speaking on Catholic Action, President Halpin discussed that “While annual charitable donations are the province of each division, this review reminded division leaders of our obligation to support charities to the best of our ability, especially Project St Patrick. Further, the State Board designated Catholic Charities of the Richmond and the Arlington Dioceses as our States Board’s charities and we’re funding this through the sale of license plate frames displaying the new AOH logo.” One Hibernian suggested Virginia do “something” to support our priest during this period of clergy scandals. The thought being priests may feel their vocations aren’t viewed in a positive light. Since our Order traces its history to protecting priest who were hunted as criminals, some division have instituted simple measures to say, “thank you”, including small, informal dinners. As Catholics, President Halpin reminded all that we are required to emphatically oppose the current progressive stance that life is no longer sacred. “When the Commonwealth’s “governor” states on television that (paraphrased) after the baby is born, “it” will be resuscitated if needed and then a discussion will ensue on whether the baby should be murdered.” That incredible interview was followed by Fairfax Democrat delegate Kaye Kory’s introduction of a euthanasia bill (HB 2713). It is worthy to note President Trump, in his State of the Union, called out late term abortion and pledged to seek legislation prohibiting that practice.
Virginia and Irish-American Heritage: Virginia AOH did a great job during the 2018 and 2019 Irish American Heritage Months by reaching out to our communities with Irish history, music and dance traditions, parades and festivals. Working with one of our state Congressmen and with the Maryland state board, Virginia Hibernians were able to achieve Irish-American Heritage Month recognition by the Library of Congress, The National Archives and The Smithsonian Institution. This recognition offers future opportunities for IAHM promotions in public schools and elsewhere. I’ve contacted several Virginia Irish/Celtic organizations suggesting collaboration in pursuit of legislation requiring the Virginia governor to proclaim March as IAHM.
Virginia Hibernians lived through the local, state, and national effort to restore the name of Fitzgerald Square in Alexandria to honor Col. John Fitzgerald, an 18th century Irish immigrant who rose to fame as George Washington’s aide-de-camp, Mayor of Alexandria, founder of the first Catholic church in Virginia and an overall important Alexandria citizen and businessman. Although an extraordinary effort was undertaken, a left of center city council fell prey to political correctness – a claim that Col Fitzgerald owned slaves prior to this death in 1799. Today there is a nascent movement to erect a life size statue of Fitzgerald in a prominent Alexandria location. Much work needs to be done in acquiring the property and raising the needed funding.
House Cleaning: Prince William County and Fairfax County boards were dissolved. For several years these boards have been unable to meet basic bylaw requirements. I attended meetings with the principals, but through 2017 and into 2018, it became clear their constituent divisions could not support them with needed manpower. County Boards cannot succeed without support from division leaders and that simply had not been forthcoming. Funds in their respective treasuries have been retrieved.
Due to an oversight, the Virginia state by-laws approved by voice vote at a state quarterly meeting in January 2016 were not submitted to National AOH for approval. They were submitted earlier this year and National President Judge James F. McKay III approved the Virginia State By-Laws on 15 April 2019.
Awards: President Halpin was honored to present two Past State and Division Presidents with National AOH recognition as a Life Members: Pat Naughton and Hugh O’Brien. At the upcoming Virginia state convention he will award Brother Terry Riley with our St Columcille Award for sustained performance. This is not an annual award. Tim is a true Hibernian from head to foot and has highlighted AOH in his community and church and has been the point man in several high visibility, Irish-American initiatives. He is also a Virginia FFAI board representative.
During his term President Bill Halpin was honored to install division officers throughout the state. He had to forgo only two installations due to inclement weather in January 2019.
Bill Halpin, Virginia State President will be remembered for these and many more accomplishments. The AOH National Board Recognizes and Congratulates bill on a Job well done.