Following an extended pastoral exchange with a clergyman in Manchester, Connecticut, Canon Kerry Waterstone, a Church of Ireland (Anglican) priest, received a request from two congregations in that city asking him to formulate a plan in an effort to help ease the tensions in Northern Ireland. After the experience of his own family here in America, Canon Waterstone felt that the attitudes of teens from Northern Ireland might be changed, so as to influence the future in Northern Ireland, if they could see and experience the way Americans have learned to live together in their “melting-pot” society.
After obtaining approval from church leaders, Canon Waterstone traveled into Northern Ireland to secure the cooperation of clergy willing to help in the implementation of his plan. Forming the original guidelines for the Project, he focused on the prejudices and stereotypes, which are the root cause of the bitter strife labeled Catholic/Protestant. Nationally, the Project began in the United States in 1975, and by 1995 there were 25 Projects here in the United States.
The Ulster Project came to Massilon, Ohio in 1982 through a local connection to Northern Ireland. An Irish ex-patriot couple, Patrick and Kathleen McMillan, had emigrated to the U.S. from Belfast several years before, and had established their family in Massillon. They loved their new country, while maintaining ties to family and friends back home. But they still kept a place in their hearts for "dear old Ireland", and were greatly concerned about the continual strife in their place of birth. One day, Patrick heard about the Ulster Project through a relative back in Belfast. He and Kathleen decided to bring the Project to Massillon and consulted with a local clergyman, Brother Benie Barga. of the Society of the Precious Blood, in order to make this become a reality.
Brother Bernie was then stationed at nearby Brunnerdale Seminary. Bernie, being the special person that he was, became enthused about the idea, and lent his full support to the plan to make Massillon another chapter of the Ulster Project. Bernie, along with a local Protestant minister, Rev. Campbell, the priests and congregation at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Massillon, and the McMillan's gathered a charter committee to form what would become the Massillon Ulster Project. Bernie traveled to Belfast to meet Canon Waterstone and learn all about the Project and the troubles in Northern Ireland. Brother Bernie was the perfect go-between for the Ulster Project because he loved all people, and was an eternal optimist. At one point during his visit to Belfast, he actually managed to gain entrance to the local Irish Republican Army office and also to the parsonage of Reverend Ian Paisley, who were among the top leadership of the warring factions in the Northern Irish conflict. Bernie believed he could talk these people into making peace with each other. Some folks might consider that naiive, but if you knew Brother Bernie you would understand what drove him to make the effort. Bernie had an unwavering faith in God and he never gave up on people. We'll never know what impact he had during those conversations, but perhaps he touched their hearts. If anyone could, it would be Brother Bernie. Bernie passed on to the fullness of life several years ago, as did Mrs. McMillan recently. This site is dedicated to their memory.
In the summer of 1982, Massillon, Ohio proudly unveiled its new chapter of the Ulster Project and played host to 28 Irish teens from its paired community, Belfast. And the rest, as they say, is history...
In 2003, the Massillon Ulster Project changed its name slightly, with the addition of Canton (Massillon's nearby sister city), making it the "Massillon/Canton Ulster Project". This was done to reflect the growing participation of host families from Canton and throughout Western Stark County. Our Project chapter has continually hosted Irish teens since 1982, and in 2002 we celebrated our twentieth anniversary. Today, a second generation is learning peace-making skills in the Project, and Northern Ireland is much closer to realizing the dream of our founders - a permanent end to the hostilities in that country.
Much has changed since 1982. Many of our activities are different. A couple of new "traditions" are the trip to Lynn Drive-in Theater to enjoy a night of "watching the stars under the stars", and an overnight party. The summer of 2004 saw the advent of two new activities, our official Americans vs. Irish soccer game (football) and the "Ulster Olympics", our wild and wacky version of the age-old Greek tradition. Still, much remains the same. We still canoe down the Tuscarawas River, thanks to the generosity of Indiana Bob, a long-time supporter of the Project. And our infamous talent show continues to thrill and amaze audiences with talented and not-so-talented entertainers. And what Project month would be complete without our awesome Halloween-in-July costume dance?
2005 promises all the excitement and fun of past years, including a trip to see the world-famous Cleveland Indians play that great American game, baseball. And as in the past, there will be many opportunities for service projects and spiritual growth. Undoubtedly, the Massillon/Canton Ulster Project is still going strong, still building friendships, still striving toward the goal of a better, more peaceful world.
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People often ask us about our Ulster Project logo, a cross emblazoned with interlocking circles. In the earliest years of the Project, there was no universal symbol to denote the Ulster Project. Most Project chapters used some form of Christian cross or a dove to symbolize our peace-making mission. Americans generally aren't very well-versed in Irish history and culture, and some of the earliest attempts at making our Northern Irish guests feel "at home" were on occasion embarrassing or even unintentionally humorous.
Brother Bernie Barga once recalled an early "welcome to America" dinner hosted by the Massillon Ulster Project. Enthusiastic local volunteers went to work festooning the banquet room with just about every stereotypically Irish symbol known to Americans, including green tablecloths, napkins, cups and plastic dinnerware, giant paper shamrocks covering the walls, and of course, pictures of "leprecauns" smoking pipes, playing flutes, and hoisting large glasses of beer. As Bernie remembered it, our Northern Irish teens may have thought they were at a Hollywood television studio set for an advertisement featuring "Irish Spring" soap or "Lucky Charms" cereal. Fortunately, over the years we have learned more about the people of Northern Ireland than what is usually shown on television here.
The first international conference for the Ulster Project was held in Milwaukee in 1984. At that time it was decided there was a need for a common logo. Five logos were submitted at the 1985 International Conference in Wilmington, Delaware. Les Didier from Milwaukee designed the logo that was chosen.
The cross represents Christianity. The four circles represent the United States and the Catholic and Protestant communities of Northern Ireland. The colors stand for the people of the United States (red and blue) and the Catholic (green) and Protestant (orange) communities of Northern Ireland. The overall symbol of a cross within a circle is an ancient Irish tradition known as the "Celtic Cross". Both the Catholic and Protestant communities of Northern Ireland have used the Celtic Cross in their religious rituals for centuries. Although the Ulster Project logo is relatively new, it stylistically pays homage to the ageless wonder of Ireland and her Christian tradition.