Michael J. Dowling, the president and CEO of Northwell Health, paraded up Fifth Avenue in Manhattan last Friday as grand marshal of the 256th St. Patrick’s Day Parade as thousands lined the street.
“To be in New York, to be in the United States and to be Irish on a beautiful day like this on St. Patrick’s Day – what could be better?” Dowling said. “It just proves what the United States is all about. No matter how you began, the United States gives opportunities that exist no place else in the world.”
At age 17, Michael Dowling set off from Knockaderry, in western Ireland, for the bustling streets of Manhattan.
Dowling said his hometown wasn’t much of a town.
“Calling it one would be an exaggeration,” he said, as he recalled milking cows and raising pigs for local farmers as a young child.
Dowling called Knockaderry a typical irish village with a church, a post office and a bar.
“You know which one was most inhabited,” he joked. Over his first three years in the United States, Dowling spent half of each year working on the docks in West Manhattan and the other half attending university in Ireland. His work not only paid for his schooling but allowed him to help support his four siblings, all of whom are younger, he said.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in education, Dowling decided to try living in the United States for the entire year.
“I had no major plan,” he said. “I stayed here and kept working, then one year led to the next. Well over 45 years later I’m still here.”
Over the ensuing years, Dowling received a master’s degree in social policy from Fordham University, where he would return to teach a few years later.
Shortly thereafter Dowling began 12 years of service in New York State government, most notably as the director of health, education and human services.
He became the president and CEO of Northwell Health, formerly called North Shore-LIJ Health System, in 2002 and continues in that capacity.
His selection to be grand marshal came last October. The parade chairman, John Lahey, called Dowling “the true embodiment of the values we celebrate on St. Patrick’s Day, a leader in a noble healing profession, an educator, a public servant, an Irish-American who has made enormous contributions to his adopted country and who has made us all proud to be Irish.”
Dowling began St. Patrick’s Day by celebrating mass alongside New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio at St. Patrick’s Cathedral followed by breakfast with Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, a statement from Northwell Health said.
Then Dowling performed his ceremonial duties, leading the parade through a sea of green to Central Park, the statement added.
“Hard to believe,” Dowling said. “It’s a long way from a small village in West Limerick.”