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You Won’t Find These Irish Lifting a Pint on St. Patrick’s Day

Cameron Whitman/Shutterstock

John Burger - published on 03/17/16 - updated on 06/08/17

Founded in Ireland, the Pioneers dedicate their abstinence from alcohol to those who suffer from its abuse

In the public imagination, Christmas is associated with reindeer, Valentine’s Day with roses and chocolates and St. Patrick’s Day with drunken revelry.

’Tain’t necessarily so, according to an organization founded in Ireland.

The Pioneer Total Abstinence Association of the Sacred Heart was founded by Jesuit Father James Cullen in Dublin in 1898. He had witnessed firsthand the enormous damage that excessive alcohol consumption was doing in Ireland. The constant imbibing of workers was a tremendous drain on their earnings, depriving their families of the funds for basic necessities. Father Cullen envisioned an organization where members’ prayers and sacrifices — especially the sacrifice of abstaining from alcohol for life — would provide spiritual support for others to abstain.

One hundred and seventeen years later, the association has about 100,000 members in Ireland. It’s also active in the United States and 19 other countries. A chapter in Cleveland, Ohio, regularly marches in that city’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade — but members won’t join in the swilling at any of the local pubs.

Pioneers pledge to give up alcohol, say a special prayer twice a day and wear the pioneer pin, which features the Sacred Heart. There are now various types of membership: lifelong, juvenile, youth, limited period or lenten pledge.

Over the years some members have earned a reputation for holiness, to the point where the Church is considering their cause for sainthood.Two of the better known among them are Venerable Matt Talbot, an alcoholic who stayed away from drink for the last 40 years of his life, and the Servant of God Frank Duff, founder of the Legion of Mary.

“The problem of the misuse of alcohol shows no sign of weakening,” says Jesuit Father Charles Davy, the current chairman of the PTAA, in a recent message. “With all the energy we can muster we are seeking to work together, relying on the risen Lord to guide us so that creatively and courageously we make our contribution to repairing what is broken in Christ’s earthly body, the Church and indeed beyond.”

The Heroic Offering

“For thy greater Glory and consolation, O most Sacred Heart of Jesus, for thy sake, to give good example, to practice self-denial, to make reparation to thee for the sins of intemperance and for the conversion of excessive drinkers, I will abstain for life from all intoxicating drinks, amen.”


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