Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture

Research Article

Immigrants in the City: New York's Irish and German Catholics

Jay P. Dolana1

a1 Assistant professor of history in the University of Notre Dame.

In the 1860s Walt Whitman described New York as a “city of spires and masts” with “the flags of all nations … duly lowered at sunset.” To this celebrator or urban life New York was a “city of the world! For all races are here; all the lands of the earth make contributions here.” The cosmopolitan character of New York was especially reflected in the city's Roman Catholic community. In the words of John Hughes, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of New York at mid-century, his “people were composed of representatives from almost all nations.” There were Italian and French Catholics, German and Irish Catholics as well as white and black American-born Catholics. And if one looked long enough, he would come across Catholic merchants from Spain and Catholic chefs from Switzerland. But within this polyglot community the two most significant ethnic groups in ante-bellum New York were the Irish and German immigrants.