Wednesday, March 26, 2008

St. Joseph's, Yorkville rich in German Catholic history

The New York Sun has details on the Pope's acceptance to lead an ecumenical prayer service at St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church in Yorkville. Jay Akasie reports (March 25, 2008):

"The pope will pray with Christian leaders at the church and take time afterwards to meet with a few of them," the spokesman for the archdiocese, Joseph Zwilling, said.

The vestiges of Manhattan's once-bustling Germantown include a Bavarian restaurant and the annual Steuben Day Parade. Of the German Roman Catholic and Lutheran parishes that remain in Yorkville, only a handful still hold services in German.

"One of the reasons Cardinal Egan invited the Holy Father, who was born in Germany, to St. Joseph's is that we offer a German mass," the church's pastor, Monsignor John Sullivan, said. [...]

St. Joseph's has the historical distinction of being a German national parish; in the early 20th century, instead of delineating its parish neighborhood with traditional geographical boundaries, it did so culturally: It was open to any Roman Catholic of German descent, no matter where he or she lived in New York City.

Until the 20th century, most of the city's German immigrants lived in Little Germany, or Kleindeutschland, in what is now the area around Tompkins Square Park. But a German church outing on the steamship General Slocum in 1904 ended in disaster when the ship caught fire and more than 1,000 German-Americans drowned in the East River.

The fire claimed more lives than any other disaster in New York City history until September 11, 2001. The 1904 event so traumatized the German population of the East Village that most families moved uptown to Yorkville, establishing German-speaking parishes like St. Joseph's.