It seems that on St. Patrick’s Day, everyone is Irish or of Irish descent. The parade winds its way up Fifth Avenue, tourists and locals patronize the many Irish pubs that dot the City, and the City is awash in green. It is easy to forget that St. Patrick’s Day is a religious holiday – the feast day of St. Patrick, who is credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland. In both the East and West Village, this history of the Irish is quite evident in the churches that were built to accommodate the growing number of Irish immigrants that settled in the neighborhood.
Even before the Irish potato famine of 1845, waves of Irish immigrants began to enter New York City. St. Jospeh’s parish (now called the University Parish of St. Joseph’s), 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.
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.
In the East Village, the Church of Saint Brigid-Saint Emeric was founded by Irish New Yorkers for an expanding Irish population. Originally known as St. Brigid’s, the church was built by notable Irish-American architect Patrick Keely, who designed and built almost 600 Catholic churches in the Eastern United States and Canada. Built on the corner of Avenue B and 8th Street, the cornerstone was laid in 1848. As along the Hudson River in the West Village, commerce along the East River attracted many Irish immigrants. Along the East River, shipbuilding was the primary industry and the Church of St. Brigid’s was so named because Brigid was the patron saint of boatmen. Most recently, the church, in need of serious repair, was restored after a lengthy battle between the parishioners and the Diocese and an anonymous donation of 20 million dollars.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day to the Irish and Irish at heart.