Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The New York Catholic Church Part II: Important Figures of the Cathedral

Archbishop John Hughes, or Dagger John, as he was affectionately known, was beloved by Catholic New York and is remembered for his strong and uncompromising leadership. Not only did he take a stand against Nativist violence against Catholic immigrants, but he also challenged what he perceived as anti-Catholicism in the public schools. As Dagger John saw it, Catholics were paying tax dollars which went to public schools, but those public schools were founded on Protestant principles and formally taught using the King James Bible. If Catholic parents wanted to protect their children from anti-Catholicism, they would have to spend even more money for a Catholic education, and yet most Catholics were poor immigrants. Hughes, the political face of the Catholics, fought against this injustice both by seeking state funding for religious schools, but lost. In response, he established a Catholic party (named Carroll Hall after the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence) and backed several candidates for the sole purpose of splitting the Democratic Vote. When the Legislature forbade sectarian religious instruction in the public schools, the Whigs and Nativists responded by declaring the King James Bible a non-sectarian book. Archbishop Hughes set about starting a network of privately funded Catholic schools, as well as helping to found a number of Catholic Colleges, including Fordham University. If it wasn't for Dagger John's zero tolerance policy when it came to anti-Catholicism, the archdiocese certainly wouldn't have grown to the size it is today, there wouldn't be a strong network of Catholic parochial schools, and New York's Catholic immigrants wouldn't have triumphed in the face of 19th century Nativism. The Catholic Church has a notable presence in New York because of Hughes' efforts. Hughes was originally buried in the crypts of St. Patrick's Old Cathedral, though his grave was exhumed and moved to the new cathedral once it was finished being built.

Pierre Toussaint was a slave until 1807 when his owner died. He became an active abolitionist along with his wife whose freedom he had purchased. In addition to keeping an open door to orphans and the impoverished, Toussaint was also instrumental in the building of St. Patrick's Old Cathedral. His cause for sainthood was raised by John Cardinal O'Connor, who also had his grave moved from the old cathedral to the new cathedral in 1990. Toussaint was declared venerable in 1996 by Pope John Paul II.

Saint John Neumann was born in the Czech republic and sought ordination to the priesthood where he was continually denied entry due to a surplus of priests. Knowing English, he wrote seeking ordination in America, and traveled there. He was finally ordained at Old Saint Patrick's, where a plaque commerates his ordination. He worked tirelessly with German immigrants in upstate New York, and eventually became Bishop of Philadelphia. Like Archbishop Hughes, Neumann was instrumental in the establishment of a diocesan Catholic school system. He also dealt with tremendous opposition from the Nativists. He is worth mentioning as he had a tremendous impact on America Catholicism as a whole, and because the development of Philapelphia Catholicism was similar to that of New York.

Other notable mentions include Isaac Hecker, the founder of the Paulist fathers, who was originally buried at St. Patrick's Old Cathedral, but whose grave was exhumed and moved to the crypt at St. Paul the Apostle Church on 60th St.

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