With St. Patrick’s Day just this past Saturday, we thought we would take a look at two seminal Irish institutions in Greenwich Village, The University Parish of St. Joseph’s and the Church of St. Veronica-In-the-Village. Both churches were built to accommodate increasing Catholic immigrant populations in the neighborhood, particularly the Irish laborers who began populating the neighborhood as domestic servants or along the waterfront as longshoreman. While the shifting community would change the congregations of these churches over the years, we can thank our Irish ancestors for their creation.
Even before the Irish potato famine of 1845, waves of Irish immigrants began to enter New York City. St. Jospeh’s parish, located on Sixth Avenue between Waverly and Washington Places, just west of Washington Square Park, was formed in 1829. Its founding is credited to the first Irish who settled in Greenwich Village, those who came to serve as domestic servants or to work on the construction of buildings when the Village’s population swelled due to outbreaks of yellow fever and cholera that beset the core city in 1799, 1803, 1805, and 1821. The parish originally served an area from Canal Street to 20th Street and was the sixth Catholic parish established in New York City. The cornerstone of the Church was laid on June 10, 1833, and despite several extensive renovations, the church that stands now is still the original. GVSHP awarded St. Joseph’s with a Village Award in 2009, for the restoration of the church facade, which included repainting, refurbishing the entrance doors, repairing the stone steps, and increased lighting. The congregation has naturally undergone changes over the years, and now serves as the University Parish of St. Joseph, ministering to the students, faculty, and staff of the New School and New York University.
St. Veronica’s, located on Christopher Street between Washington and Greenwich Streets, was built to accommodate the growing congregation of St. Joseph’s, as the Irish population of longshoreman who worked along the docks of the Hudson River grew. The parish was formed in 1887 by the Reverend John Fitzharris of St. Joseph’s Church with a collection by local parishes. Services began in a warehouse at the corner of Washington and Barrow Streets. The Irish congregation laid the cornerstone in 1890, but the final dedication would not be until 1903, owing to the limited financial means of the congregation’s working class parishioners. The church is named for named for Veronica, the woman who is credited with wiping the face of Jesus and is depicted on the 6th Station of the Cross. By the 1950s, the congregation of St. Veronica’s had declined as the waterfront shipping industry had, and St. Veronica’s school was closed. In the 1980s, St. Veronica’s became involved in the deepening AIDS crisis in the Village, opening housing for those homeless and with AIDS, and created a memorial to the many who died from the disease.