St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral was the second Roman Catholic church, and the first cathedral to be built on the island of Manhattan. As the seat of the New York diocese from 1809-1879, it remained a center of religious life during a time of great social tensions and changes for American Catholics. Deeply ingrained, anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant feeling permeated nineteenth-century American politics, and New York City Catholics often looked to their Church for help and leadership. Bishop John Hughes, who resided in the current Mulberry Street rectory, became deeply involved in politics and public engagement during his tenure (1842-1864), fighting for government funding for parochial schools and demanding public acceptance and social equality for Catholics.
Although the completion of the new St. Patrick’s Cathedral on 5th Avenue in 1879 physically removed archdiocesan administrators from Old St. Patrick’s, it has remained an active parish, in the heart of a vibrant and dynamic immigrant neighborhood. Since 1879, Old St. Patrick’s has provided communicants and area residents with a variety of educational, social, and religious services. The cathedral school, for example, which remained open from its founding in 1825 through the recent closure in 2010, has educated generations of new Americans from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. The church also supported a number of religious societies and other charitable organizations. This digital exhibit tells the story of these institutions, portraying the cathedral as a community church that has welcomed a number of various immigrant groups over the years.