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Celebrating the Achievements of a Delaware Interfaith Peacemaker, Sally Milbury-Steen

Dr. Sally Milbury-Steen

Sally Milbury-Steen, former Executive Director of Delaware Pacem in Terris, received an honorary doctoral degree from the University of Ulster in Ireland on July 2nd, 2013.

Northern Ireland isn’t much in the news these days. The violence involving Catholics and Protestants there has much subsided. The organizers of the Ulster Project of Delaware, a project of Pacem in Terris, recognized that to reduce longstanding animosities would require changing the hearts and minds of youth– a long-term project. They began to bring youth from Northern Ireland to the United States, to live with American families and experience interfaith harmony. The Ulster Project has been doing that since 1976, and its graduates have helped to change attitudes in their home country.

The graduation bulletin of July 2nd announced:

Distinguished US-based inter-faith peacemaker Dr. Sally Milbury-Steen is to receive the honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws (LLD) in recognition of her contribution to peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland.

As executive director of the Delaware peace organization Pacem in Terris from 1985 – 2012, she worked on an impressive array of projects. She has also been an inspiration to Ulster Project Delaware, which since 1976 has brought Catholic and Protestant teenagers from Northern Ireland to Wilmington, Delaware, during the month of July.

A native of Delaware, Dr. Milbury-Steen served in the US Peace Corps in Africa and was later a Fulbright lecturer in Gabon.

She has contributed to the social and cultural development of Northern Ireland through the vision she has shared with its young people and leaders who have worked with her over the past 30 years to create a more just, inclusive society.”

After receiving her degree Sally addressed the assembly with the following words:

Vice-Chancellor, members of the Council of the University, members of the University, Graduates and awards recipients, Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak on behalf of all who are graduating today. This is a time to celebrate all that you have accomplished. Congratulations!

I am deeply grateful, humbled, and honored, that the University of Ulster has presented me with an Honorary Doctorate. The beautiful parchment which I have been given is really a palimpsest. Beneath its text in invisible ink are the names of the hundreds of people in Northern Ireland and in Delaware with whom I have been privileged to work for peace and reconciliation for almost three decades. It is the combined effort of us all that has made Ulster Project Delaware successful and this award possible. I would like to recognize some of them, including those in attendance today: the Ulster Project Delaware Coordinator in Coleraine, Dorothy Black, the Coordinator in Banbridge, James Hudson and his wife Jane, the Coordinator in Portadown, Martin Hagan, Thomas and Rita Sweeney from Wilmington, and my husband John and our daughter Blythe. Thank you so much for your thousands of hours of volunteer effort, your dedication, and support.

When Charles and Josephine Robinson founded Ulster Project Delaware in 1976, they rooted it deeply, and each July a new crop of Northern Irish teenagers thrives in Delaware. Is it any wonder that whenever I come to your country and see your beautiful flower displays, each of these blooms represents to me the young people who grow through the project?

Graduations are a perfect time to thank our parents for all that they have done for us to make this day possible. Mine are long deceased, but I would like to thank my father, Rev. F. Douglas Milbury, and my mother, Lillian Jasa Milbury for teaching me about peacemaking. Dad taught me how important it is to listen to people with patience and love. Listening is the essential way that we show respect for others; it is the gateway to empathy. My mother showed me how to turn the Golden Rule into countless acts of kindness and hospitality. In addition to her four children, she became Mom to exchange students from Germany, Switzerland, New Zealand, Denmark, and Japan who each lived with us for a year. My parents gave me a sense of the oneness of the human family, a love for travel and cross-cultural experiences, as well as the faith and the courage to take the risks that working for the common good, peacemaking and justice require. All of these lessons helped me during the 27 years that I directed Delaware Pacem in Terris, the interfaith peace and justice charity in Wilmington, DE which is proud to have Ulster Project Delaware as one of its programs.

I would like to describe two memories that I have of the Belfast City Hall. The first one dates from late July of 1988 – from my initial visit to your remarkable country which I now consider my second home. I was so impressed by the warmth of your people and the beauty of your countryside. But it was a time of contention. When I went to Belfast, security was tight, and the City Hall had a huge white banner stretched high across its front façade that declared in large letters, “ULSTER SAYS NO” in opposition to the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

On the 15th of March 2013, I visited Belfast again, but this time I had the opportunity to go inside the City Hall. It was a magnificent day, people were sitting on the benches on the grounds of the building, enjoying the sunshine, watching the jumbotran screen. There was no security or metal detector to go through in order to enter the City Hall. Inside the main foyer, a lovely bride and her attendants had gathered for a wedding and when I went to the Reception Hall upstairs a Celtic craft exposition was taking place as part of the Belfast City Council’s first St. Patrick’s Festival.

Twenty-five years had passed between these visits, but so much had changed, and with your energy and creativity, it will continue to change. I know from my efforts to help dismantle racism in Delaware that changing attitudes is not easy, but it is possible, if we engage with others different from ourselves. Just think of what the next twenty-five years will bring, if you work for the common good, building mutual understanding, societal transformation, and lasting peace in Northern Ireland.

On behalf of all who have received awards in this ceremony, and on my own behalf, I would like to express my profound gratitude to the Vice-Chancellor and all here at the University of Ulster for the awards conferred upon us today. Thank you.





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