Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Catholic New York - Recommended Historical Sites & Parishes

  • Catholic New York's "pride of place" goes to St. Patrick's Cathedral, located on Fifth Avenue between 50th and 51st Streets in New York City:
    St. Patrick's Cathedral is the seat of the Archbishop of New York, Edward M. Egan. It is the largest decorated gothic-style Catholic Cathedral in the United States and has been recognized throughout its history as a center of Catholic life in this country.

    The Cathedral was begun in 1858 by Archbishop John Hughes to replace the original St. Patrick's Cathedral, which in 1879 became -- and is still used today as -- a parish church in New York.

    "Old St. Patrick's" is located in “The Heart of Old New York” in the rapidly changing neighborhoods of Little Italy, Chinatown, and SOHO.

  • St. Peter's -- New York's earliest Catholic church, dating back to 1785 when one priest served the city's 200 Catholics. The church's cornerstone was laid in 1785, and the first solemn Mass was celebrated in St. Peter's in 1786 -- nearly three years before George Washington — standing less than a mile away on an open-air balcony of Federal Hall (the nation's first capitol) — took the the oath of office as the first president of the United States. In 1800, it opened the first Catholic school in the state of New York.

  • St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Shrine @ Our Lady of the Rosary 7 State Street, New York, NY | GoogleMap - Elizabeth Ann Seton was founder of the Catholic parochial school system in the United States and The Sisters of Charity. She was heralded by Archbishop Kenrick as one who "did more for the church in America than all of us bishops together." In 1975 she was canonized in Rome as America's first native-born American saint.

  • St. Francis Xavier Cabrini is the first United States citizen to be elevated to sainthood (1850-1970):
    Mother Cabrini has a double claim on our interest. Foundress of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart and pioneer worker for the welfare of dispersed Italian nationals, this diminutive nun was responsible for the establishment of nearly seventy orphanages, schools, and hospitals, scattered over eight countries in Europe, North, South, and Central America.
    The St. Frances Cabrini Shrine | GoogleMap which houses her remains is located at 701 Fort Washington Ave., overlooking the banks of the Hudson River and neighboring New Jersey.

  • The Cloisters in Fort Tryon Park | GoogleMap, which house 5,000 works of art, including the famed Unicorn Tapestries, illuminated manuscripts, saints' relics and paintings (view highlights):
    The building housing the collection is itself a work of medieval art. It is a composite structure, incorporating elements from five medieval French cloisters: Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa, Saint-Guilhem-le-D├ęsert, Bonnefont-en-Comminges, Trie-en-Bigorre, and Froville. These disassembled European buildings were reassembled in Fort Tryon Park (1934/38) in a setting with gardens planted according to horticultural information culled from various medieval documents and artifacts.
  • Church of Our Savior 59 Park Ave. at 38th Street is home to the Reverend George William Rutler, whom you might remember for his regular column in the now defunct Crisis magazine or appearances on EWTN. He was appointed pastor of Our Savior by Cardinal Egan in September, 2001. If you're looking for a good, solid orthodox-friendly mass in Midtown (no liturgical abuses and "funny stuff"), this is your place. George Weigel devoted a column to it in 2005 series "Catholicism's Great Places" -- on Fr. Rutler's commissioning for the parish of a twenty-four foot tall Christos Pantokrator based on the great icon of that style at St. Catherine's Monastery on Mt. Sinai. [Photo by Gerald Augustinus].

  • Corpus Christi Church 529 West 121st Street, just east of Broadway | GoogleMap - famous in part for being the site of the baptism of Trappist Monk and Catholic mystic Thomas Merton in 1938 (author of The Seven Storey Mountain.

    Corpus Christi's website in fact maintains a page of quotes by Thomas Merton about their parish, including his recollection of the Mass, written in 1948:

    The words, songs, ceremonies, signs, movements of worship are all designed to open the mind and heart of the participant to this experience of oneness in Christ. One reason why I am a Catholic, a monk and a priest today is that I first went to Mass, and kept going to Mass, in a Church where these things were realized. . . . There was nothing new or revolutionary about it; only that everything was well done, not out of aestheticism or rubrical obsessiveness, but out of love for God and His truth. It would certainly be ingratitude of me of I did not remember the atmosphere of joy, light, and at least relative openness and spontaneity that filled Corpus Christi at solemn High Mass.
  • Of historical interest to Catholic Workers and admirers of Dorothy Day, but probably not destinations for the regular Catholic tourist: The Catholic Worker newspaper headquarters are at St. Joseph's House at 36 E. First St. | GoogleMap. Dorothy Day herself is buried on Staten Island, in the Resurrection Cemetery, and lived her last years at Maryhouse, at 55 E. Third St. | GoogleMap, a "hospitality house" that still provides services to the poor.

The above list was compiled chiefly with the help of the Associated Press article: Catholic heritage in New York and Washington DC, mentioning a few sites worth visiting for "papal tourists."

To it I would have to add one of my personal favorites -- Church of St. Francis of Assisi | GoogleMaps -- located near Penn Station on 31st Street. Here's an apt description from the National Catholic Reporter:

Every weekday morning from crack of dawn on, thousands of people run, dawdle, drift or race up the escalators and stairs out of Penn Station, out into Manhattan, off to work. Add the New Jersey Transit and the Port Authority bus station crowds, and in a three-hour period hundreds of thousands of commuters, roughly 25 percent of them Catholic, converge on this part of New York City.

Coffee containers in one hand, bags and briefcases in the other, ignoring everything and everyone, the tidal wave of humanity funnels up West 32nd Street, with a smaller eddy along West 31st Street.

Either way, they pass an entrance to St. Francis of Assisi Church. Some on West 32nd Street turn sharp right into the church. Many just touch the head, heels or hands -- all burnished yellow from the gesture -- of the kneeling bronze statue of St. Francis in the little courtyard.

Others slip downstairs to attend one of the 13 daily liturgies -- the first at 6 a.m., the last at 5:30 p.m. -- or the popular 8:10 a.m. Liturgy of the Hours.

Where in the world (shrines apart) is there another church with no registered parishioners that has a pastor and 20 assistants, offers confessions 13 hours a day and utilizes 520-plus volunteers -- 250 for liturgical duties, 270 for social outreach? and has Br. Sebastian Tobin, a non-ordained friar, making sandals in the basement. This is a commuters' church such as is possible only in New York.


St. Francis of Assisi Church, one of the city's oldest, opened 156 years ago as a German parish. All that has changed in a century and a half is the nationality of the immigrants. German, Irish and Italian in the 19th century; in the 21st, Korean, Filipino, Portuguese, African, Latin American, Middle Eastern, Central and Eastern European.

This church attracts the earlier immigrants (whose families have dashed up Penn Central steps for two, three and four generations) to pray -- and they help out the new immigrants. The friars provide the essential spiritual and social services in between.

To the New York archdiocese, St. Francis is a parish. To the Franciscans, it's a "service church," a mission of the Manhattan-based Franciscan Holy Name Province that covers the U.S. East Coast.

When I first moved to New York (almost a decade ago) I used to live on 30th street, and hence became a regular attendee -- nowadays if I'm in the area I'll still go back, either for confession (tell me, where else can you find the sacrament of reconciliation available practically all day long?) or to take in their mass, situated underneath a beautiful, awe-inspiring mosaic of the Holy Mother crushing the dragon with her heel, surrounded by Francis, St. Clare and the rest of the saints.

Catholic New York Resources:

NOTE: I've only been to Washington DC once, and that was decades ago on a family outing with the parents. Consequently, I'm hoping DC Catholic bloggers -- I don't want to put any on the spot, so I won't name names -- might tackle something similar in preparation for the Pope's visit.

Likewise, if any resident New York Catholic bloggers want to add their "recommended "Pope-friendly" parishes" (I've already received inquiries as to such), feel free to do so in the combox below.