The former Governor of Mountjoy Prison, John Lonergan, and the Holocaust survivor, Tomi Reichental, were among five recipients awarded honorary doctorates by Maynooth University today.
Other recipients honoured were the Irish Ambassador to France, Ms Geraldine Byrne Nason, Ms Patricia Oliver of An Taisce, and the businessman and founder of Strokestown House, Co. Roscommon, Jim Callery.
Speaking at the conferring ceremony, Maynooth University President, Professor Philip Nolan, said: “Our honorary degree recipients all were chosen for their resonance with the core values of Maynooth University: John Lonergan and Tomi Reichental for their efforts to achieve justice, equality and reconciliation; Geraldine Byrne Nason for her public service and extraordinary skills in global diplomacy; Patricia Oliver for her leadership in environmental conservation and education; and Jim Callery for his devotion to historical preservation and community. Their work on issues of importance to Ireland and the world reflect Maynooth University’s ethos as an institution, and we’re proud to recognise their efforts.”
John Lonergan joined the Irish Prison Service in 1968 and was Governor of Portlaoise Prison and Mountjoy Prison until his retirement in 2010. A native of Bansha, Co. Tipperary, John has been a lifelong advocate for penal reform, as well as highlighting the links between economic and social disadvantage and crime. John makes himself available to students, schools and communities to share his insights and wisdom gleaned from his 42 years working in the Irish prison system. His memoir, The Governor: The Life and Times of the Man Who Ran Mountjoy, was published in 2010.
Tomi Reichental was just nine years old when he lost 12 members of his family in October 1944 in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. In all, he lost 35 members of his family in the Holocaust. In 1959, he moved to Ireland, where he became an Irish citizen and much later broke his silence on his experiences. Since then, Tomi has embarked on a mission of remembrance, tolerance and reconciliation which he shares when he talks to students across the country about his experience. As well as publishing his bestselling autobiography, I Was a Boy In Belsen, Tomi has been the subject of two RTE documentaries, and in 2013 was awarded the German Nation’s Order of Merit in recognition of his ‘tireless work in the combating of xenophobia and racism and in particular his commitment to the cause of reconciliation and highlighting the futility of hatred.’ At Maynooth University Tomi has developed a close association with the Edward Kennedy Institute for Conflict Intervention.
Honouring the three further honorary doctorate recipients, Ms. Geraldine Byrne-Nason, Ms. Patricia Oliver and Mr. Jim Callery, Professor Philip Nolan, said they each had made a significant contribution to both Maynooth University and Irish society in their own individual ways.
Geraldine Byrne Nason has been Irish Ambassador to France since 2014. She was born in Drogheda, Co Louth, and graduated with a BA in English and Irish and a MA in English from Maynooth College. She joined the Department of Foreign Affairs in 1982 and as a career diplomat has served in the United Nations in New York, Vienna, Geneva, and Helsinki before appointments as Second Secretary General in the Taoiseach’s Department, Secretary General, with responsibility for Ireland’s Economic Management Council and as the country’s most senior diplomat with responsibly for EU policy. Despite career commitments, Geraldine has given generously of her time to supporting Maynooth University, where she is a member of the Maynooth Alumni Advisory Board and set up the France Chapter of the Maynooth Alumni Association. In 2014 Geraldine was elected as a Member of the Royal Irish Academy, the highest academic honour in Ireland.
Patricia Oliver was born and bred in Dublin’s Liberties. A publisher and book editor, she was appointed editor of Life and Environment, the bi-monthly newsletter of An Taisce-the National Trust for Ireland in 1973. Since then she had worked tirelessly with An Taisce, organising and chairing fundraising events and committees, introducing and generating publicity, and promoting awareness generally on environmental issues. She is a former editor of Taisce Journal and served at all levels within the organisation before becoming National Chairwoman from 1990 to 1994. In that role she led the development of the European Blue Flags for Beaches Awards under An Taisce and the creation of its Environment Unit. As the Irish representative of the International Foundation for Environment Education (FEE), Patricia is recognised and respected internationally and led the establishment of the Green Schools programme at pre-school, primary and secondary level ,and later expanded to the Green Campus Awards scheme for third level institutions.
Jim Callery. A native of Strokestown, Co. Roscommon, Jim Callery is a highly successful businessman with interests in a wide variety of sectors, including property, transport, vehicle sales retail and financial markets. In 1976, his company, Westward Group, was awarded the dealership for Scania trucks in Ireland. He is well known for his involvement in the restoration of Strokestown Park House and the Irish National Famine Museum, both funded by The Westward Group.
Today, Jim continues to apply the same energy, vision and drive that made him a successful business man to a broad range of philanthropic endeavours that reflect his knowledge and interests, including history, world hunger, social justice and equality.
He was the initial benefactor that enabled the Centre for the Study of Historic Irish Houses and Estates to be established at Maynooth University and he continues to be an active supporter of the Centre. Jim deposited the Strokestown Park House papers (today more than 55,000 documents) as the founding collection in the Maynooth University/OPW archive centre at Castletown House and invested heavily to secure, conserve and develop this collection which is acknowledged as the finest surviving archive relating to the Irish Famine. Among his many other achievements Jim played host to one of the most successful events of The Gathering 2013 celebrations.
Caption (l-r): John Lonergan; Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason; Prof Philip Nolan, President, Maynooth University; Tomi Reichental; Patricia Oliver and Jim Callery