Pope Benedict chooses historic St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral as New York City’s first basilica

The original St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City was then, as the new one now, the center of religious life for members of the Archdiocese of New York and the seat of the Archbishop. The oldest Roman Catholic Church building in New York City, it played vital social and political roles in the lives of young immigrants, helping them adapt to their new home

Now known as Old St Patrick’s, the cathedral on Prince and Mott streets had served the Irish immigrant population since 1809. Land for a new cathedral was purchased in 1852 and construction started in 1859. Before the new cathedral could be completed, St Patrick’s was ravaged by fire in 1866. The cathedral was restored and rededicated by John Cardinal McClosky in 1868

Mangin was designing the cathedral while his most prominent work, New York City Hall was being constructed. Though more Gothically ecclesiastical, one can see echoes of Mangin’s City Hall design in the cathedral.

On June 8, 1809 the cornerstone of the original St. Patrick’s “Old” Cathedral‚ was laid. On May 14, 1815, it was dedicated and the New York Gazette described it as “a grand and beautiful church, which may justly be considered one of the greatest ornaments of our city….”

St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral was New York’s first Cathedral, at the start of this Country, the first Roman Catholic Cathedral in America named for the Patron Saint of Ireland. St. Patrick’s has dignity and character in its stark simplicity. The side walls are 75 feet high, the inner vault is 85 feet high. The church measures over 120 feet long and 80 feet in width. the huge marble altar near the western wall, surrounded by ornately hand-carved, gold leaf reredos, containing some of the finest religious statuary in the United States.

On the very same grounds you will find New York City’s only Russian Catholic Church – St. Michael’s – still celebrating its ancient liturgies every week. The complex includes six buildings, all listed on the National Register of Historic Places – including St. Patrick’s school, which served as a Revolutionary War hospital and was called “Dead House” Later it was transformed into an orphanage where America’s first Saint, Mother Elizabeth Seton, established her order- the Sisters of Charity. The building was gifted to the church by Cornelius Heeney, an early 19th century philanthropist who loved children. An 18th century graveyard surrounds St. Patrick’s. The Rectory is located in the Bishop’s former residence at 263 Mulberry Street, not far from the church.

At the other end of St. Pat’s is the choir loft and the historic 1868 Henry Erben pipe organ. Henry Erben was the most well known organ builder not in New York City and America, in general.

Underneath the church there is a labyrinth of mortuary vaults and the cemetery outside contains old graves and tombstones. Buried here is the Venerable Pierre Toussaint, a Black New Yorker, born a slave in Haiti, whose elevation to sainthood is now under study in Rome.
St. Patrick’s is also the original burial site of Bishop Hughes – “Dagger John” and New York’s first Bishops. Founders of the Emigrant Savings Bank have family plots in the crypt; Andrew Carrigan, Peter Hargous and others. Also interred here are Dominic Lynch, first President of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick and a ratifier of the Constitution. Countess Annie Leary, the first woman in America to be made a Papal Countess, also rests below the cathedral.

St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral has been the site of many important events in American history. In1835, Bishop John Hughes was forced to assemble the parishioners to defend the Cathedral against anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant mob violence that threatened the Cathedral. Chanting epitaphs such as “Paddies of the Pope…” these vigilantes were determined to “burn her to the ground.” The need to defend the Cathedral against mob-violence wasn’t uncommon. The “Know Nothing Party” organized Protestants to march on St. Patrick’s. Hughes wrote to New York Mayor James Harper saying “Should one Catholic come to harm, or should one Catholic business be molested, we shall turn this city into a second Moscow.”

Archbishop Hughes’ decision to arm the Ancient Order of Hibernians and position them on the walls surrounding the Cathedral, prevented these attempts, but the anti-papist mob did stone the beautiful stained glass windows of both the church and the Bishop’s residence. Hibernian Hall was located across the street from St. Patrick’s in the 1800s continued to defend the church and its priests during times of both turbulence and peace.

Not all of the Cathedral’s history was troubled. St. John Neuman was ordained to the priesthood at St. Patrick’s. Archbishop Hughes was the first priest elevated to the Episcopate in St. Patrick’s and on Tuesday, April 27th, 1875, Archbishop John McCloskey received the zucchetto rosso, the red-skull cap, in St. Patrick’s, Pope Pius IX having made him the very first American Cardinal. Attending the auspicious occasion were future U.S. President Chester Arthur, Mayor William H. Wickham, and other leaders of the day.

With the outbreak of the Civil War, President Lincoln invited Archbishop Hughes to represent America as his envoy to France, Spain and England, hoping to dissuade them from aiding and abetting the Southern Confederacy.

Shortly after President Lincoln called for troops, the “Fighting 69th” Regiment, lead by Colonel Michael Corcoran, Thomas Francis Meagher and former Congressman, U.S. Attorney and Abolitionist – Captain John McKeon, headed off to what would be the Battle of Bull Run – and they were the only Union regiment that did not flee. The New York Irish Brigade, mainly men of the parish, fought heroically for the Union and the abolition slavery. Many of those soldiers lie in the cemeteries surrounding St. Patrick’s.

Seventy-five-percent of the Irish Brigade died in battle. War’s end left with many widows and orphans. A few years later, with the emigration of the Italians to America the neighborhood changed from Irish to Italian, giving the neighborhood its new name – Little Italy. The Italian community soon made St. Patrick’s theirs and have contributed some of the finest stained-glass work in North America to the church, as well as many vocations.

On May 25, 1879 The Old Cathedral role as the seat of the Archdiocese of New York ended and it became a parish church. This change resulted from building of our present day Cathedral of St. Patrick on 50th Street and Fifth Avenue.

St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral is a church of the people, generations after generations, built modern day America. This church nurtured the Irish, Germans, French, and Italian communities as they arrived in this new world. Italian-Americans and Dominicans comprise today’s parish . The Chinese community is served at the church on Broome Street – Most Holy Crucifix, established in 1925.

St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral is in “The Heart of Old New York”, Little Italy – on the edge of the Bowery and SoHo, just north of Chinatown. St. Pat’s parish is robust, regularly celebrating liturgies in English, Spanish and Chinese.

Serving this community for almost 200 years, St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral looks forward to serving for many years to come.


Flushing Division Celebrates 100 Years

In 1909 the AOH National Board received an application to form a new Division in Flushing, New York.  Queens County President Peter McSarry told State President S.W. Brown there was great interest for the new Division. At the time, Flushing had a growing Irish population and was changing from farming to a residential community. The application was reviewed and approved by the National Board in January 1910.

The next month, on February 10, 1910, Division 9 was founded in Flushing at Saint Michael’s Church. The founding officers were M.J. Connor – President, James Tracy -Vice-President, James Hayes – Recording Secretary, John J. Mayer – Finical Secretary and Patrick Sellers -Treasurer. The Charter reflected the times in that Ireland was not an independent country and the flag was the traditional 1798 rising banner.

In its early years Division 9 was a source of comfort to the growing Irish immigrant population of Flushing and western Queens. Members of the Division actively supported the WWI war effort and sent care packages to the solders in France.  During the 1920s the Division was involved in transforming Main Street Flushing into one of the biggest commercial areas of New York City.  The 1930s were a very difficult time for the Division.  The economic depression inspired members to provide food packages to Brother Hibernians throughout Queens County who were in need. During WWII the Division participated in war bond drives and they again sent care packages to soldiers fighting overseas.

The greatest growth and activity of Division 9 came after WWII.  That’s when Flushing saw a population boom due to the construction of new single family and attached homes, along with new apartments. Division 9 held events at the Flushing Armory with crowds of more than 300 people. Members of the Division were involved in civic, commerce and industry in the Flushing community.

Division 9 was the first division in eastern Queens. Members assisted in the creation of Divisions in Whitestone, Woodhaven, Rockaway Beach, Bayside and Bellerose. Many of the people who were involved in Division 9 activities went on to form Divisions in Nassau and Suffolk counties; and in other states across the country.

In 1993, the Division responded to the changing Irish population by moving from Saint Michael’s Church in downtown Flushing to Saint Andrew Avellino Church in east Flushing. In 1997, the Division was named in honor of Patrick J. Curran – a 67 year member of the Division 9, a National Life Member, County officer, Division President and Treasurer of the Division for more than 30 years.

Members of the Division have been actively involved on the AOH Queens County Board. The County Men of the Year were Patrick J. Curran in 1991, his son Joseph Curran in 2000 and John Mahoney in 2007.  Division member Joseph Curran was also Freedom of All Ireland Chairman from 1988 to 2009, while John Mahoney was County Treasurer from 1989 to 1991; Thomas Friel was County Treasurer form 1999 to 2001 and A. Warren Scullin was County President from 2003 to 2005. Division members have also served on the Queens County Degree Team.  The current Queens County Board members are Gregory Farren – County Finical Secretary and Owen Kelly – Organizer.

Division 9 has always had an active participating role in the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade in New York City.  The Aides to the Grand Marshall were Patrick J. Curran in 1970 and his son Joseph Curran in 1997.

Throughout the years the Division has been an active in the cause of a United Ireland. Members of the Division have written to government officials, participated in AOH National and State Freedom for All Ireland events and supported programs of economic development and social justice causes in Northern Ireland. Joseph Curran was an inspiration to all of the members for such a just cause. His passing in 2009 was a time of great sadness for all of the members of the Division, yet his memory lives on and it inspires the members to work harder for peace and justice for all the people of Ireland.

Over the past few years the Division has been involved with working with the New York State AOH for the growth of the order.  Current Division President A. Warren Scullin was State Deputy Finance Chairman from 2003 to 2005, State Deputy Organizer from 2007 to 2009 and is presently a State Director.

Most recently, the Division has hosted Andy Cooney and Tony Kenny concerts, sponsored sporting events, donated to Saint Andrew Avellino Church, participated in AOH National and State Conventions and helped to form a Division in Woodside.

Today Division 9 still plays an active role in the Flushing community. It is a networking environment where people of a common background and faith can share their love of Irish heritage. Times change, yet the members still keep the faith of the founding officers and live by the Hibernian motto of Friendship, Unity and Christian Charity.

Members of Monsignor McLaughlin Division 7 in Wantagh, NY pose with Town of Hempstead Executive Kate Murray after marching in the Wantagh 4th of July Parade this past Independence Day.

New AOH Hall at Hudson Valley’s Historic Verplanck

New Peekskill AOH Hall

On August 1, 2010 the Red School House (circa July 1876) in historic Verplanck in the town of Cortlandt in Westchester County became the Hudson Valley Irish Center, home of Ancient Order of Hibernians, Division 18, Peekskill Hibernian Hall thanks to generosity of the Verplanck Volunteer Fire Department.

The solid red brick building was built by the Irish immigrants who mined and made the bricks that built NYC. Their names are etched in the bricks over the entrance along with the date in early July, 1876. Many of those family names can still be found in the Town of Cortlandt where the Hibernian Hall is located, the neighboring City of Peekskill and amongst the roster of our members.

Dan Dennehy, AOH National & NYS Board Immigration Chair and Chairman of the Hudson Valley Irish Fest Inc. stated, “We are excited to see our organizations grow in our new home, a place built by our ancestors and an appropriate place to display and promote our rich Irish American heritage. I look forward to the local schools of music and dance, pipe bands and traditional musicians, along with our families, sharing this facility and its grounds, which overlook the majestic Hudson River.”

Last year, the Hudson Valley Irish Fest at Peekskill’s Riverfront Green was founded by AOH members Dan Dennehy and Ray Bermingham and fellow Peekskill St. Patrick’s Parade Committee member Scott Mettey. Their purpose was to promote the idea of a much needed home for Irish American heritage. At that time, the active local Irish American community was reeling from the loss of Jimmy Guinan’s and PJ Kelly’s, two local establishments that were centers of Irish music and dance. The Hudson Valley Irish Fest, a not for profit charitable corporation and educational trust was established and contributed to by the combined efforts of  AOH Division 18 and the Peekskill St. Patrick’s Parade Committee. They recruited members of the community to their Fest Committee and raised funds with a series of successful Pub Quizzes.

The result of the extremely dedicated Committee work saw 3,000 guests at the beautiful riverfront on Fest day. Also many new friendships were made and membership and interest in the local Irish organizations blossomed. The committee compensated the two organizations for their initial outlay and further unexpected dividends of this effort became apparent.

AOH Division 18 more than doubled its membership and the Peekskill St. Patrick’s Parade Committee welcomed many new participants. The Hudson Valley Irish Fest Inc. and Peekskill St. Patrick’s Parade Committee established the John McGurty Sr. Library, a multimedia section of Irish & Irish-American literature and history at the Field Library in Peekskill.