New York's First National Churches

Traditionally, Catholics attended mass in churches determined by their geographic location, known as territorial parishes.  However, beginning in the 18th century in America, due to the large numbers of immigrants coming in to the country, national parishes, or parishes that were bound together by a shared ethnicity of their parishioners rather than geography, were increasingly established.  The first national parish in the United States was Holy Trinity, a German national church in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.  The Archdiocese of New York quickly followed, with the establishment of national parishes following the waves of immigration to the city: first were German churches, then Italian, followed quickly by Polish, Slovakian, and then Spanish.  These national parishes were served by priests who spoke the language and shared a culture with their congregation, and allowed different ethnicities to worship in a place that was familiar to them.  Gradually, as immigrant populations moved both within the city and to the surrounding suburbs, the need for national parishes in different areas declined.  By the mid-twentieth century, in New York, the establishment of national parishes had again slowed in favor of territorial parishes.

For more information about other national parishes in the Archdiocese of New York, please see The Bicentennial History of the Archdiocese of New York by Msgr. Thomas J. Shelley.

St. Peter's Church, Barclay Street, Manhattan

St. Peter's

The First Church

Before St. Peter's Church was established in 1784, there was no Catholic Church in the entire state of New York.  The church predates the Diocese of New York, which was not established until 1808.  The parish was established in October 1784 when Fr. Charles Whelan, an Irish Capuchin, arrived in New York.  By October of 1785, the parish had raised enough money to purchase land from Trinity Church on Barclay Street in Lower Manhattan, and the cornerstone of St. Peter's was laid on October 5.  The church, though still unfinished, was dedicated on November 4, 1786.  In 1800, St. Peter's established the first Catholic school in New York State.  The original church building was replaced with a larger structure in 1836, after a portion of the ceiling collapsed.  This new building took up the land that had once been the cemetery, so the bodies had to be reinterred in the cemetery at St. Patrick's Cathedral.  The new building was completed in 1840, and is today a federal landmark.

To find out more about the parish, including mass times, please visit the parish's website.

Basilica of Old St. Patrick's Cathedral, Manhattan

Basilica of Old St. Patrick's Cathedral

The First Irish Church

The population of Catholics in New York City soon outgrew St. Peter's Church.  On June 8, 1809, the cornerstone was laid for a new church, which would serve as the cathedral for the new Diocese of New York.  St. Patrick's Cathedral was located on the corner on Mott and Prince Streets in what was then a still rural part of Manhattan.  The land had originally been purchased to serve as a cemetery for St. Peter's Church.  The new cathedral was the first church in the United States to be dedicated to the patron saint of Ireland, who was chosen due to the large numbers of Irish who made up the majority of New York's Catholics at the time.  The Cathedral was opened on May 4, 1815, with a crowd of over 4,000 people in attendance.  In 1866, the interior of the Cathedral was destroyed by fire, and completely rebuilt, and was rededicated in 1868.  

In 1858, the cornerstone was laid for a new St. Patrick's Cathedral, far uptown on 5th Avenue.  This new Cathedral wasn't officially used until 1879, when the Old St. Patrick's reverted to a parish church.  On March 17, 2010, Archbishop Timothy Dolan announced that Old St. Patrick's had been awarded basilica status, and would now be known as the Basilica of St. Patrick's Old Cathedral.

To find out more about the parish, including mass times, please visit the parish's website.

Church of St. Nicholas, Manhattan

St. Nicholas'

The First German Church

At the time St. Nicholas was founded, Germans were the second-largest ethnic group among New York Catholics.  Much of the German population in the city was clustered on the Lower East Side.  In 1833, Fr. Joseph Raffeiner first began offering mass for German Catholics in a rented shop on Delancy Street.  Two years later, in 1835, the cornerstone for St. Nicholas' Church was blessed.  In 1836, Fr. John Neumann (later St. John Neumann) celebrated his first mass at the church.  In 1848, the growing population of German Catholics led to the construction of an even larger church.  A school was built in 1867, staffed by the Sisters of St. Dominic.  By the 1910s, the changing demographics of the Lower East Side meant that the German population in the area had decreased, and the church was increasingly used by Slovenian Catholics, before the church was ultimately closed in 1960.

Church of St. Vincent de Paul, Manhattan

St. Vincent de Paul

The First French Church

The Church of St. Vincent de Paul was founded in 1841 on Canal Street.  The French counsel-general attended the ground breaking ceremony on October 11, 1841.  The parish was staffed by the Fathers of Mercy, first by Fr. Annet Lafont, who served the church for 32 years.  Although the French community in New York was small, the parish was able to survive with donations from the Society for the Propagation of the Faith in France.  Fr. Lafont also set up a French orphan asylum, and greatly supported the work of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.  In 1857, the church was moved uptown to West 23rd Street.  The church was ultimately closed in 2013.

Church of St. Anthony of Padua, Manhattan

St. Anthony of Padua

The First Italian Church

In 1859, an Italian priest started the first Italian national parish in the building on Canal Street which had been the former home of the Church of St. Vincent de Paul.  Once the church had raised enough money, they purchased a former Methodist Church on Sullivan Street, which was dedicated as St. Anthony of Padua on April 10, 1866 by Cardinal McCloskey.  The church is run to this day by the Franciscan Friars, and for many years the Provincial of the Franciscans in America lived in the rectory.  In 1888, a larger church was built at the same location, along with a separate friary for the Franciscans.  

To find out more about the parish, including mass times, please visit the parish's website.

Church of St. Stanislaus, Manhattan

St. Stanislaus

The First Polish Church

In 1874, Fr. Adalbert Mielinszny first began to specifically minister to the Polish people of New York City, and by 1876 the group had purchased a former Methodist church at Forsyth and Stanton Streets to be used as the first Polish national parish in the Archdiocese.  The church was dedicated to St. Stanislaus on July 14, 1878.  In 1900, the parish moved to East 7th Street, where the new church was dedicated by Archbishop Corrigan in 1901.

To find out more about the parish, including mass times, please visit the parish's website.

Church of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, Manhattan

Sts. Cyril and Methodius

The First Czechoslovakian Church

Early Czech Catholics, who often knew German, worshipped at St. Nicholas' Church, but by 1875 had organized to form the Church of Sts. Cyril and Methodius on East 4th Street.  This parish did not last long, and by 1887 had been taken over by the Redemptorist Fathers, who renamed it Our Lady of Perpetual Help and moved it to East 61st Street.  By the early 1900s, there was a Czech priest permanently at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and Czech children attended the school.

A second Czech parish was founded in the early 1900s--St. John Nepomucene, on East 72nd Street.  This did not last long as a national parish either, and by 1918 was used as a territorial parish.

Church of St. Benedict the Moor, Manhattan

St. Benedict the Moor

The First African-American Church

In 1883, Fr. Thomas Farrell established St. Benedict the Moor, the first church north of the Mason-Dixon line to serve African-American Catholics.  The church was first located on Bleecker Street, but in 1898 moved to West 53rd Street, following the movement of the African American population.  The old Bleecker Street Church was taken over by the parish of Our Lady of Pompeii, an Italian national parish.  In 1886, the church established St. Benedict's Home for Colored Children, originally located on nearby MacDougal Street, but later moved to Rye, NY.

In 1953, the Spanish Friars of the Third Order of St. Francis took over the management of the church, and renamed it Sacred Heart of Jesus, which merged with St. Paul the Apostle in 2015.

Church of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, Manhattan

St. Elizabeth of Hungary

The First Slovakian Church

St. Elizabeth of Hungary was formed in 1891 to serve immigrants from Slovakia.  The first masses were held in the basement of St. Brigid's Church on Avenue B.  By 1892, the parish had built their own church on East 4th Street, and the first mass was celebrated on August 7.  By the early 1900s, the Slovakian population of New York City was moving away from the Lower East Side, so the decision was made to move the church to follow the population.  In 1917, the parish moved to East 83rd Street, in a former Lutheran church, which was dedicated in 1918.

In 1980, because of the decrease in the number of Slovakian Catholics in the Archdiocese, the mission of the church was changed to minister to deaf Catholics within the city.  In 2014, the church was merged with the nearby Church of St. Monica, along with St. Stephen of Hungary.

To find out more about the new parish, including mass times, please visit the parish's website.

Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Manhattan

Our Lady of Guadalupe

The First Spanish Church

In 1903, the Augustinian Fathers established Our Lady of Guadalupe to minister to working-class Spanish in New York City.  At the time the parish was established, the area was known as "Little Spain."  The church was on 14th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues.  The church was created out of an old brownstone building, with a Spanish Baroque style facade added in 1921.

In 2003, Our Lady of Guadalupe was merged with the nearby church of St. Bernard, and the parish is now called Our Lady of Guadalupe at St. Bernard.  Masses for the new parish at held at the former St. Bernard.

To find out more about the parish, including mass times, please visit the parish's website.