The First Word: Chasing Miracles

By Patricia Harty, Editor-in-Chief
February / March 2010

“I think your happiness in life is largely dependent on how you deal with adversity….”
– John Crowley in Chasing Miracles.

In this issue’s cover story, we bring you behind the scenes to the Crowley family home in Princeton, New Jersey.  John, one of our Business 100, is the founder of several biotech companies specializing in finding cures for genetic diseases. His wife Aileen, the daughter of our Business 100 honoree Martin Holleran, is a stay-at-home mom. Of course, John is not just any CEO, and Aileen is not just any stay-at-home mom.  John founded a biotech company with the specific intent of finding a cure for Pompe, a genetic disease. And Aileen managed the care of Megan and Patrick, the couple’s children, who were born with the disease, while John went on a relentless search for a cure.

I won’t ruin the ending; the Crowley story inspired the movie Extraordinary Measures, in theaters now. Suffice to say that the couple’s determination and will to succeed changed the lives, not just of their own children, but of all children born with Pompe disease.
Other stories in this issue also remind us that the history of the Irish in America is full of stories of tough minded individuals who refused to quit. The feature on Gettysburg recalls the heroics of the Irish Brigade and their battle cry “Faugh an Ballagh” – “Clear the Way.”

And the story of “The Miracle Worker” Annie Sullivan, who taught the blind and deaf Helen Keller to read and write, is also truly inspirational.

Born at the end of the Civil War to Famine Irish immigrants, the almost blind Annie overcame a childhood of poverty and deprivation before going on to leave her mark on the world.

Those Famine and Civil War Irish formed the bedrock of Irish America, but not all the stories from that great time of suffering are ones of triumph. In fact, for  many just staying alive was a miracle. Yet they had dreams for the future and they sacrificed a lot for their children. And, even as scientists are discovering that the starvation our ancestors endured can affect us genetically over a century later, we know that our Irish genetic code is also imbued with a strong will and determination to survive.

Annie Moore, as the first immigrant to pass through Ellis Island, was presented with a $10 gold piece in celebration of the opening of the new facility. However, that promising start did not a fairy tale ending make. Annie married, had 11 children and was dead at age 47 from heart failure.

Annie’s great-granddaughter Maureen Petersonrecently found a photograph of Annie in a scrapbook, so we finally know what she looked like. “Annie struggled very hard to raise her family,” said Maureen. “Each generation [of the family] has done better, financially and educationally. We would all like to think we’ve done her proud.”

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