Father Anthony McLaughlin, a native of Belfast, Northern Ireland, and priest of the Diocese of Tyler, became a United States citizen this past Tuesday, completing a process started almost a year ago.
Father McLaughlin is currently living in Washington, D.C., where is he is teaching Canon Law at the Catholic University of America. He is returning to ministry in the diocese later this summer and has been assigned as pastor of St. Joseph’s in Marshall by Bishop Joseph E. Strickland.
“’I’ve always had a great fondness for the United States, its people and its ideals. I knew that I would be spending my entire life here so it was very natural that I had a desire to become a citizen. The greatest advantage to being a citizen is that I can now vote! I’m so looking forward to participating in my first presidential election in 2016.”
In order to be eligible for U.S. citizenship an individual must have spent time in the U.S. as a permanent resident (green card holder), be of good moral character, and pass proficiency tests in the English language as well as U.S. history and government. The candidate is also interviewed multiple times by government officials and submits to extensive background checks.
The naturalization ceremony was held at the United States District Court in Washington and presided over by Judge Coleen Kollar-Kotelly. About 100 new citizens took their naturalization oath and, according to Father McLaughlin, the climax of the ceremony came towards the end when each candidate was called by name and country of origin.
“We were all asked to raise our rights hands and the judge administered the Oath of Allegiance which we all repeated after her. Over 100 people became American citizens. It was truly a very moving experience.”
Father McLaughlin recalled his first thoughts of the United States came when he was growing up in Ireland, “From childhood I grew up on stories of the Irish immigrating to the United States. How we as a people had sought refuge under the shadow of Lady Liberty. I was always inspired by the courage and determination of so many immigrants and I admired how America had opened her arms to these ‘troubled masses’. So many immigrants were able to transform their lives because America afforded them tremendous opportunities.”
Father McLaughlin began studying for the priesthood in 1989, first in minor seminary in Belfast and then major seminary in Dublin. He originally planned to be ordained for his home diocese and spent his first six years with that goal. Discerning whether to continue that plan or go to an area where there was a more serious need for priests, he spent the summers of 1994 and 1995 working in parishes in Los Angeles, California. During his last year of studies in at St. John’s Seminary in Waterford, then Deacon McLaughlin learned about the Diocese of Tyler and its need for priests from an alumnus, Msgr. John Brennan. McLaughlin then visited the diocese in June of 1997 and decided to make it his home.
Although he is now a citizen of the United States, Father McLaughlin said this doesn’t mean he is any less Irish.
“Of course, my becoming an American is not a rejection of Ireland or all things Irish. Being Irish has had a significant impact on the man I am today. I will always treasure my Irish heritage. St. Patrick’s Day each year will be an opportunity for me to celebrate my Irish heritage and the home of my birth. My Irish accent will remain my most obvious connection to Ireland! Every time I open my mouth to speak I will never be far for my roots!”