In a week, on Sunday May 12th, we will celebrate Mother’s Day. Therefore, it’s worth remembering one of Minnesota’s most influential mothers, Judith Naughton Ireland. Judith was a simple immigrant with roots from Kilkenny, Ireland where she met and married a widowed carpenter named Richard Ireland. In the midst of the Irish potato famines in 1849, they mournfully departed their homeland and sailed to the United States with their six children and four orphaned children of Richard’s sister. The family eventually worked their way across America by covered wagon and steamboat to arrive at the Jackson Street Levy outside of St. Paul in 1852. Devoutly Catholic, they were welcomed in the once bustling fur trading town with many French Catholic connections.
Judith was the pleasant balance in the family to her stern disciplinarian husband. Her love of education and belief in her children helped shape this great state’s image forever. One of her sons became Bishop John Ireland, one of the most dominating figures in Minnesota’s early history. Her daughter Ellen became a sister in the order of St. Joseph of Carondelet and is credited with being the driving force behind the creation of many of our Catholic schools including the College of St. Catherine. Judith’s adopted orphan daughter Ellen Howard also became a nun and was later known as Mother Celestine, Mother Superior of St. Agatha Conservatory. The conservatory was a nationally renowned music education institution built mostly from money the sisters received from railroad baron James J. Hill.
This loving and dedicated mother had an enormous influence on this state as a result of a determined dedication to her children. It is that same motherly dedication to her children that motivates Sen. Katie Sieben (DFL-Newport) in her legislative quest to protect children from toxic chemicals. She is the chief author of a bill (HF459) in the Minnesota Senate requiring the removal of bisphenol A (BPA) from children’s food packaging, a natural position for this mother of three just coming off maternity leave. This is an extension of her nation leading initiative from a few years ago that removed BPA from baby bottles and sippy cups. BPA is designated by the Minnesota Department of Health as a Priority Chemical because of its toxicity and potential harm to children. Priority Chemicals are chemicals that are persistent in our environment and bodies that have been found to cause health effects like cancer or harm brain development.
Protecting children from toxic chemicals may seem like common sense to most of us, but Sen. Sieben was faced with a challenging fight as bottle companies and food manufacturers were pushing back from this common sense initiative. BPA is often used to line cans for food products, but there are alternatives to its use in containers for baby food and infant formula. Despite this stiff opposition, Sen. Sieben was able to secure a bipartisan vote of 41 to 23 this Thursday. Earlier in the week the House passed their version of the bill on a 115 to 11 vote.
Conservation Minnesota is part of a coalition known as Healthy Legacy. This coalition represents over 1 million Minnesotans that are dedicated to safe products, safely made. The goal of the coalition is to educate consumers, work with leading businesses and promote policies that protect consumers from toxic chemicals. The Healthy Legacy coalition was proud to partner with Sen. Sieben in promoting phasing out of BPA from infant formula and food packaging. We congratulate her on her efforts and wish her the best on Mother’s Day coming up in a week. Like Judith Naughton Ireland, she is the kind of mother that makes Minnesota great.
*Reflected Glory, The Story of Ellen Ireland, by Patricia Condon Johnston, Minnesota History Quarterly, spring 1982, page 14