Southern Tier program honors longtime activist - Catholic Courier

Southern Tier program honors longtime activist

Margaret Driscoll’s social-justice efforts benefitted many underprivileged people over the years. Now, with an assist from Catholic Charities of Tompkins/Tioga, her legacy is living on.

Catholic Charities has established the Margaret Bigham Driscoll Justice and Peace Memorial Fund. Its centerpiece is an annual interfaith forum, "Voices of Hope," featuring speakers who discuss current social-justice issues from a faith perspective. The inaugural event was held Oct. 1 at First Unitarian Church in Ithaca.

Edie Reagan, Catholic Charities’ justice-and-peace director for Tompkins/Tioga, said this tribute to Driscoll — who died five years ago at age 88 — is highly deserved.

"She was a dear friend of mine and many people in the community, a wonderful role model. I met her when she was in her mid-70s, and she was still very active," Reagan recalled. "She had been really supportive of me over the years, especially regarding women in the church. She always had a twinkle in her eye and was somebody who was always open to new ideas. She had a sense of humor that saw her though many challenges in her life. She had a very kind of progressive political attitude for someone of her age."

Driscoll, a native of Canandaigua, was a close friend of Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker movement. This association began while Driscoll was attending Vassar College during the Great Depression. As president of the college’s fledgling Newman Club chapter, Driscoll invited Day and her Catholic Worker cofounder Peter Maurin to address privileged students about the importance of serving the poor. Driscoll eventually worked alongside Day at the first Catholic Worker House of Hospitality in New York City. She later helped establish Catholic Worker movements in both Rochester and Ithaca, and was involved in a host of other charitable and social-justice initiatives.

In addition, Driscoll strove to assist the poor and disenfranchised as her family moved to Paris, Washington and Cairo. She settled in Tompkins County in retirement with her husband, Dick, residing in Newfield and belonging to St. Catherine of Siena Parish. Shortly before her death, Margaret was presented with the Vincenza A. DeFazio award conferred by the New York State Council of Catholic Charities Directors in honor of her many accomplishments.

The Driscoll fund’s initial "Voices of Hope" event on Oct. 1 featured Dr. Sheila Cassidy, noted human-rights advocate, as keynote speaker. Cassidy is best known as the young doctor who was arrested and tortured for treating a wounded revolutionary in Chile during the 1970s dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. She has since written an international best-seller about her experiences, Audacity to Believe, and has become an outspoken advocate for human rights.

"We were very pleased with how the event went," Reagan said, noting that 125 people attended and many engaged in a lively open-forum discussion during the program’s last 20 minutes.

Cassidy’s presentation was cosponsored by congregations and faith communities of many denominations from the Ithaca area. Reagan said that Cassidy happens to be Catholic, but speakers for Voices of Hope can be of any faith background.

Another local interreligious link involves the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, which advocates for the president of the United States to issue an executive order banning torture. Reagan noted that Catholic Charities and five area congregations — including St. Catherine of Siena Parish — are currently displaying anti-torture banners and used Cassidy’s presentation as a springboard for their efforts.

"It’s really good to have that interfaith energy here," Reagan remarked.

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