The First Church in New York

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XVIII (8) start of chapter

There was a Cardinal Antonelli in those days, as in these; and the Cardinal of that day, when despatching to Dr. Carroll the official documents appointing him to the new see, thus expressed his congratulations and his hopes: 'It is a splendid and glorious office to offer to God, as it were, the first fruits of that portion of the Lord's vineyard. Enjoy, therefore, so great a blessing, not only for the salvation of yourself, but for that of others, and for the increase of the Catholic faith, which we trust will become more and more widely established in that distant region.'

In 1785, when Dr. Carroll submitted the case of his coreligionists to the Propaganda, he estimated the number of Catholics in the United States at 26,000, and thus distributed them—16,000 in Maryland, 7,000 in Pennsylvania, and 2,000 in New York and the other States. This was too low an estimate, as it did not include French and other Catholics living to the west of the Ohio and on the borders of the Mississippi; but the small number attributed to New York, now perhaps the most Catholic of any of the States of the Union, is worthy of notice. It was not until the city of New York was evacuated by the British, in 1783, that the Catholics began to assemble for the open celebration of public worship. They probably might have been content to remain for a longer time without a church of their own, had they been able to obtain any suitable place in which they could decently offer up the Holy Sacrifice; but finding it impossible to accommodate themselves with a building such as they required, they were compelled to commence what must have been in those days a formidable undertaking—the erection of a Catholic church by a small congregation; and in 1786 the Church of St. Peter, the first Catholic Church in the State of New York, was erected—several Irish names being included among its principal benefactors. That there were Irish congregations in the States at that day, and that the New York congregation bore that distinction, we have evidence in a letter quoted by Dr. Bayley in his 'Brief Sketch of the Catholic Church on the Island of New York.' The letter is from Dr. Carroll, dated December 15, 1785, and addressed to his friend the Rev. Charles Plowden:—

The congregation at New York, begun by the venerable Mr. Farmer, of Philadelphia, he has now ceded to an Irish Capuchin resident there. The prospect at that place is pleasing on the whole. The Capuchin is a zealous, pious, and, I think, humble man. He is not indeed so learned, or so good a preacher, as I could wish, which mortifies his congregation: as at New York, and most other places in America, the different sectaries have scarce any other test to judge of a clergyman than his talent for preaching, and our Irish congregations, such as New York, follow the same rule.

The Irish in America, first published in 1868, provides an invaluable account of the extreme difficulties that 19th Century Irish immigrants faced in their new homeland and the progress which they had nonetheless made in the years since arriving on a foreign shore. A new edition, including additional notes and an index, has been published by Books Ulster/LibraryIreland:

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