The Roman Catholic Church In New York City 1783


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Sir Thomas Dongan, who was governor of New York under James II., about the year 1685, was a Roman Catholic, and it was during his administration that the first Catholic families settled in the city. But the prejudices of the people against them were very strong, and under the administration of subsequent Governors, very oppressive laws were passed. There was even a law passed in one instance, for hanging every Catholic priest who should come voluntarily into the colony. There is, however, no evidence that this law was ever enforced.

It is true that in August, 1741, John Ury, an Englishman, who was a Catholic Priest, was publicly executed in this city. But he was indicted as being concerned in what was called "The Negro Plot," which was a supposed conspiracy of negroes, and others, to burn the city and murder the inhabitants; and there is no evidence that the law formerly passed against the Catholics was brought into view at all in this case. There was, however, a most intolerant spirit reigning, as the
consideration of another fact will show. Before the Revolution, the port of New York was the great depot of the captures made by the British cruisers.

In the month of February, 1778, a large armed French ship was taken by the British, near the Chesapeake bay, and sent into New York, for condemnation. Among her officers was the Rev. Mr. De la Motte, a Catholic priest, of the order of St. Augustin, in the capacity of the Ship's Chaplain; and he, with the other officers, was permitted to go at large in the city, within certain limits, on his parole of honor. Mr. De la Motte was solicited by his countrymen, and by those of his own faith, to hold religious service according tot he forms of the Catholic Church. Being apprised of the existence of some prohibitory law, he applied to the Commandant
for permission, which it seems was refused; but not understanding the language very well, Mr. De la Motte supposed he had obtained the permission, and proceeded to hold the service. For this he was arrested, and kept in close confinement until he was exchanged.

Thus, until the close of the Revolutionary war, and while the English laws were in force in the country, no Catholic clergyman was allowed to officiate in this State; but after the war, and when the independence of the country was acknowledged, full toleration was enjoyed, and every man was allowed to worship God according tot he dictates of his own conscience. The Roman Catholics in
this city took immediate advantage of this, and in November, 1783, a congregation was formed under the ministry of the Rev. Andrew Nugent, who it is believed was sent hither by the Bishop of the Roman Catholic Church in Maryland. Their place of worship was in a building erected for public purposes in Vauxhall garden, situated on the margin of the North river, the garden extending from Warren to Chambers streets. One of the most active men in this enterprise was Sieur de St. Jean de Crevecceux, then consul of France, for New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, who with Joxe Roiz Silva, James Stewart, and Henry Dufflin, became incorporated on the 11th of June, 1785, by the name and style of the "Trustees of the Roman Catholic Church in the city of New York." The church not being well accommodated with a place of worship applied for the use of the "Exchange," a building then standing at the lower end of Broad street, and occupied as a court room, but failing in this, measures were immediately taken for the erection of a church building.

Ground having been procured on Barclay street, corner of Church street, a brick edifice was erected, measuring forty-eight feet by eighty-one, and so far finished as to have mass performed for the first time within its walls, on Saturday, November 4, 1786. The services were conducted by the Rev. Mr. Nugent, as pastor, assisted by the chaplain of the Spanish ambassador, and the Rev. Jose Phelan.

In the following spring, the name of the church was changed to that of St. Peter's.

Mr. Nugent continued to officiate until 1788, when he was succeeded by the Rev. William O'Brien, who continued pastor of St. Peter's church until his death, which took place May 14, 1816. The Rev. John Power, D.D., succeeded Mr. O'Brien in the pastoral office, in which office he remains, having now as a colleague, the Rev. Charles C. Pise, D.D.

In the year 1836, it was found necessary to rebuild St. Peter's Church, as the old one was going to decay, and was, moreover, altogether too small to accommodate the increasing multitudes who resorted thither. It was accordingly taken down, and a most substantial edifice of stone was erected in its place, more than twice as large as the original building. The corner-stone was laid with appropriate services by Bishop DuBois, October 26, 1836. In September of the following year, public worship was commenced in the basement, and on February 25, 1838, the principal auditory was consecrated by Bishop Hughes.

St. Patrick's Church

For more than thirty years St. Peter's Church was the only Catholic Church in the city of New York, but the denomination increasing rapidly, another church building was needed for their accommodation. Accordingly, in the year 1815, a very spacious stone building was erected on the corner of Mott and Prince streets, and called "St. Patrick's Cathedral." Here, within a short time, a large assembly was collected, and not many years elapsed before it was judged expedient to enlarge the building. When first erected it was 120 feet long and 80 wide, and now 36 feet more were added to the length, extending the building from Mott to Mulberry streets; and although there are no galleries in the house, except an organ loft, yet probably two thousand persons can be accommodated on the principal floor of the house. This cathedral is considered the seat of the Episcopate in this diocese. Bishops Hughes and McCloskey reside here, assisted by a number of the subordinate clergy.

St. Mary's Church

After the erection of St. Patrick's Cathedral, more than ten years elapsed before another Catholic Church was built in the city. But the Catholic population was fast increasing, especially in the northeastern part of the city, and farther accommodations were needed for them. Accordingly, towards the close of the year 1826, a building, then vacated by the Seventh Presbyterian Church, was purchased, and a congregation collected. The building was situated on Sheriff street, between Broome and Delancy streets. It was a small frame building, with a brick front. The church remained here between six and seven years, when the building was consumed by fire. A large and convenient structure was immediately erected on Grand street, corner of Ridge street, and opened in 1833, under the name of "St. Mary's Church." The Rev. William Starrs is pastor.

Christ's Church, St. James's, and Church of the Transfiguration.

In the year 1825, as related heretofore the Episcopal Church in Ann street near Nassau became extinct, and their house of worship was offered for sale. At the close of the following year it was purchased by a church of Roman Catholics, then formed, who took the name of "Christ's Church,"_ the name of the Episcopal Church, whose place they then occupied. Of this church, the Rev. Felix Varela, then recently from Spain, became pastor. They continued in Ann street, in ordinary prosperity, until the year 1834, when the church edifice was consumed by fire. This event led to the speedy establishment of two churches. The congregation had become numerous, and a part of them, residing in the vicinity of the East river, wished to locate in that direction. A large edifice was accordingly put up on James street, near Chatham, and opened in the year 1835,__legally holding the old corporate name of "Christ's Church," but known among the people as "St. James's Church." The other section of the congregation purchased a house of worship situated on Chambers street, near Centre street, which had been occupied by the Reformed Presbyterians, where they commenced service on March 13th, 1836. This was called the "Church of the Transfiguration." The Rev. Dr. Varela took the pastoral charge of this church, in which office he still continues: the Rev. John M. Smith is pastor of St. James's.

St. Joseph's Church

Shortly after the establishment of the church in Ann street, as just related, the Catholic population increased very greatly in the northwest part of the city, and it became necessary to provide for their religious instructions. This led to the erection of "St. Joseph's Church," standing on the Sixth avenue, corner of Barrow street, which was opened in the year 1833, under the ministry of the Rev. James Cummisky.

The Rev. Dr. Pise, Rev. Dr. McCloskey, now one of the bishops of the diocese, and Rev. Dr. Manahan, have successively ministered to this flock. The Rev. Michael McCarron now holds the pastoral office.

German Churches

The emigration to this city, of Germans, has been very great for the last ten or twelve years, and the German population in the city, at this time, is computed at nearly thirty thousand. A large proportion of this population are of the Roman Catholic religion, and, to provide for their instruction, there have been established four German churches, viz: "St. Nicholas's Church," in Second street, founded in 1835, of which the Rev. A. Buckmeyer is now pastor; the "Church of St. John the Baptist," situated on Thirtieth street, near Eighth avenue, founded in 1840, of which the Rev. J.A. Jacop is pastor; "St. Francis' Church," in Thirty-first street,
near the Seventh avenue, founded in the year 1844, of which the Rev. Zachariah Kunze is pastor; and "The Church of the most Holy Redeemer," situated on Third street, near Avenue B, founded in 1844, of which the Rev. Gabriel Rumpler is pastor. In these churches the service is conducted in the German language. As these churches are of recent origin, the above facts comprise about
the whole of their history.

St. Paul's Church

A large Catholic population had settled at Harlem, and to accommodate them with a house of worship, a large edifice of stone, measuring seventy-two feet by fifty-two was erected in the year 1835. The Rev. John Walsh is the officiating minister.

St. Andrew's Church

In the year 1840, another Catholic Church was formed, called "St. Andrew's Church," under the pastoral charge of the Rev. John Maginnis. A house of worship, originally built by a Universalist Society, situated on Duane street, near Chatham, was purchased, and here they remain.

Church of the Nativity

Such is the style of a Catholic Church formed int he year 1841. At that time the "Second Avenue Presbyterian Church," finding themselves embarrassed, felt obliged to relinquish their house of worship tot heir creditors. It was sold at auction, and purchased by this Catholic Church. It has since been enlarged. A very numerous congregation assemble here. The Rev. Edward O'Neil is pastor.

Church of St. John The Evangelist.

This church was founded in 1842. The church-edifice is of wood, rather a frail building, but capable of accommodating a large congregation. It stands on the Fifth avenue, near the Institution for the Deaf and Dumb. The Rev. Felix Larkin is pastor.

Church of St. Vincent De Paul

In the summer of 1839, the Episcopal "Church of the Ascension," standing on Canal street, near Broadway, was destroyed by fire, and that congregation rebuilt their church-edifice on the Fifth avenue. In a year or two after this, the site of the old church in Canal street was purchased by a church formed of French Catholics, under the above name. Their present house of worship was built in 1843. The Rev. Omnet Lafont is the present pastor. The service is conducted in the French language.

Church of St. Columbae

This is the last Catholic Church formed in the city. It was organized in 1845, when a large and handsome edifice was erected on Twenty-fifth street, near the Ninth avenue. The Rev. Joseph P. Burke is pastor.

List of the Roman Catholic Churches in the City of New York, with the Date of their Organization.

St. Peter's Church, Barclay street (1783)
St. Patrick's Church, Mott street (1815)
St. Mary's Church, Grand street (1826)
Christ's Church, Ann street (now extinct) (1826)
St. Joseph's Church, Sixth avenue (1833)
St. James's Church, James street (1835)
St. Paul's Church, Harlem (1835)
St. Nicholas' Church (German), Second street (1835)
Church of the Transfiguration, Chambers street (1836)
St. Andrew's Church, Duane street (1840)
St. John the Baptist (German), Thirtieth street (1840)
Church of the Nativity, Second avenue (1841)
Church of St. John the Evangelist, Fifth avenue, (1842)
Church of St. Vincent de Paul (French), Canal street (1843)
St. Francis' Church (German), Thirty-first street, (1844)
Church of the Holy Redeemer (German), Third street (1844)
Church of St. Columbae, Twenty-fifth street (1845)

Churches 16

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Website: The History
Article Name: The Roman Catholic Church In New York City 1783
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: A History of the Churches of all Denominations in the City of New York; from the First Settlement to the year 1850; New York: E. French, 1850.
Time & Date Stamp: