Our pilgrim route starts near the northern tip of Manhattan (Mother Cabrini shrine) and extends to the Battery (Mother Seton shrine), along a route of approximately thirteen miles (don't worry: parts of the route slope downhill; you'll make it). The walking route will give you a wonderful tour of Manhattan's geography, ethnic neighborhoods, architecture, and, most importantly for our purposes, Manhattan's rich Catholic legacy of holiness.

The following paragraphs introduce you to the churches and saints you will meet en route. The history of New York generally flowed "south to north"; that is, the first European visitors settled Manhattan's tip and gradually moved north. But our pilgrimage will flow "north to south," so your pilgrimage will begin in the 19th and 20th centuries, and you will gradually walk south in geography and backward in time toward the earliest 18th century traces of Catholic Church history in New York.
St. Frances Xavier Cabrini

St. Paul/East Harlem

St. Patrick’s Cathedral

St. Peter/Lower Manhattan

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton
 
St. Frances Xavier Cabrini (1850-1917)
 
She founded the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart and journeyed to New York in 1889 with six companion sisters. They worked as teachers, nurses, social workers, and even as counselors to death row prisoners in New York jails; she helped found the Columbus Hospital (later known as Cabrini Medical Center). In all she founded some 67 orphanages, schools, or other social service centers in New York, Chicago, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and other cities—an absolutely incredible record of accomplishment in any age, much less in her own "pre-jet-age" era.

Mother Cabrini was canonized in 1946. She was the first American citizen to be named a saint. Since the 1930s, her body has been enshrined in a glass case in the St. Frances Cabrini Shrine, which is adjacent to Mother Cabrini HS in Manhattan's Fort Washington section.

St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, herself an immigrant to the United States, reminds us how deeply the Catholic Church in New York has been shaped by the immigrant experience.

While you pay respects to Mother Cabrini, recall the courage it took for this woman to travel from her native Italy to a distant country in the 19th century; think of her tireless efforts to serve the poor and underprivileged in this city. We can pray that we too will be similarly inspired by her example.
 
St. Paul/East Harlem
 
The parish of St. Paul was established in 1834 by Bishop DuBois to serve Catholics in the whole upper area of old New York from New Rochelle to downtown Manhattan. Rev. Michael Curran, who had been a zealous worker in the mountains of Pennsylvania, was chosen as the first pastor. A site was then purchased for a new church, named for St. Paul, and the cornerstone was laid on June 29, 1835. The church, through the zeal of its pastor and the generosity of its people, was soon completed mid-century and the construction costs defrayed. At that time Harlem was little more than a wilderness. In 1832, some business people had obtained permission from the city to lay a double track for horse-drawn cars from City Hall to the Harlem River along Fourth Avenue (Fourth Avenue was renamed Park Avenue.) It was hoped that the streetcar line—the first on the island—would attract Harlem commuters and shoppers who ordinarily used the riverboats to get downtown and back. In 1871, the building was enlarged, and in 1872 a school was built.

The present church, designed by Neville & Bagge, was built at roughly the same location in 1907-08.
 
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
 
The Cathedral of Saint Patrick, dedicated in 1879, is a National Historical Landmark of the United States. It’s the seat of the Archbishop of New York and the parish for its local midtown community. The Jesuits purchased the land under the present Cathedral in 1810 for $11,000.00 (what must have seemed like a fortune at the time has turned out to be quite a bargain.) They briefly ran a school there before turning the site over to the diocese (New York was not elevated to Archdiocese status until July of 1850.) At one point during the 19th century, before this part of Manhattan was densely settled, the diocese planned to use the land for a cemetery site. Archbishop John Hughes (1797-1864) later determined to build a new cathedral on the site to replace St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral (which you will visit on the next stop on our pilgrimage.) Work on the site was begun in 1858, delayed by the Civil War and various funding shortages, and the Cathedral finally opened in May of 1879, dedicated by the first American Cardinal and Archbishop of New York, John McCloskey (1810-1885).

At the time, the building towered over its midtown landscape. The Cathedral is filled with renowned examples of statuary and architecture, and is well worth a detailed look.
 
St. Peter/Lower Manhattan
 
St. Peter’s Church , opened in 1786, was the first Catholic Church in New York City. The Catholic population at the time was undoubtedly tiny, as few as 200 persons by some estimates. New York City was also enjoying at the time its brief tenure as capitol of the newly formed United States.

Thus, St. Peter’s original parishioners included desperately poor locals and relatively well-off ambassadors visiting from predominantly Catholic countries like Spain. The first pastor reported that he had to work in six languages. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton converted to Catholicism in this parish.

The present church building opened in 1840.
 
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (1774 – 1821)
 
Saint Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton was the first native-born citizen of the United States to be canonized. She was born an Episcopalian, married a wealthy businessman, and raised five children. Her life took a dramatic turn when her husband became bankrupt, took ill, and died before Elizabeth was thirty. Shortly after, she converted to Catholicism and moved to Emmitsburg in Maryland where she devoted the rest of her life to education and care of the poor. She founded the first religious community of women started in the United States, the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph. She was canonized in 1975. Elizabeth Ann Seton lived in a time when women were seldom welcomed to take initiative, yet she overcame considerable obstacles to launch a religious order that expanded and grew beyond what she could possibly have imagined. Her life is a fitting end to the Pilgrimage of New York, as it echoes themes so prominent in the lives of the other holy men and women commemorated during the pilgrimage. We pilgrims reflect on Mother Seton and the other holy men and women remembered during this trek; we take courage that they, like us, faced challenges; we take consolation from their holy example; we pray to be inspired, like them, to care for the poor and marginalized persons in our community.