If you’re visiting New York City this summer or fall, why not visit some of its saints? It may surprise you, but one lived on Wall Street– St. Elizabeth Seton. Take the Staten Island Ferry for a lovely free view of the harbor and then stop by the house where she, her husband and five children lived for a couple of years after they went bankrupt. That can happen to people on Wall Street you know.
Up further on Broadway are two Episcopal churches that Elizabeth Seton belonged to in her early years: Trinity Church and its chapel St. Paul’s. She lived from 1774-1821 and was one of New York’s colonial elite. Many of them, like Alexander Hamilton, are buried in Trinity’s cemetery.
Stand on Broadway outside Trinity Church and look down Wall Street toward the East River and you can see some of the institutions that made America what it is today: the slave market and the docks on the East River, the Stock Exchange and the Federal Building where George Washington was inaugurated our first president, and finally Trinity Church and King’s College on the western side of Manhattan.
Elizabeth Seton lived on Wall Street too. Her journey into the Catholic Church ended at St. Peter’s Church, on Barclay Street, a short walk from St. Paul’s. Her story is a compelling spiritual adventure. Catholics then were a small minority in the city, mostly poor Irish, some French, and a sprinkling of others. Catholics weren’t popular in those days either. In fact, from 1700 to 1784 Anti-Priest laws were in effect that prohibited Catholic priests from entering New York under penalty of imprisonment and even death. St. Peter’s Church then was only a little church then. The present church is pictured above.
Another parishioner at St. Peter’s was a Haitian slave, Pierre Toussaint, who is also a candidate for canonization. He was a hair-dresser for many prominent colonial women; he gave them spiritual advice besides doing their hair.
Mother Cabrini also walked the streets of downtown New York, taking care of poor Italian immigrants. If you visit Ellis Island remember this great woman whose started hospitals and schools here and all over the country. Dorothy Day, whom the US bishops are petitioning Rome to canonize, started the Catholic Worker movement on the Bowery. She was a powerful voice for social justice and for ending war. Her work is still going on.
St. John Neuman was ordained a priest at Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Prince Street in downtown New York. Way back in the 16th century when the city was still in Dutch hands, St. Isaac Jogues hid somewhere down here after escaping from the Mohawks at Ossernonon up along the Mohawk River. I think of him and the other heroic Jesuit missionaries to the Indians whenever I visit the Smithsonian’s impressive Indian Museum at the Battery.
So if you visit New York City remember– saints walked here. They’re still walking here.