Let me share with you a copy of Edwin Cardinal O’Brien’s homily from St. Patrick’s Day Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Here is an excerpt:
It was Archbishop John Hughes, Irish born, who to the consternation of many laid the cornerstone for this Cathedral on August 15, 1859. The City and the Nation were at that time in a deep financial depression: bank closures and unemployment were rampant. And the site he chose to build was well north of the then bustling heart of New York. His whole plan was called Hughes’ Folly, so unrealistic were the finances as well as in the timing and the choice of this very location.
Nevertheless, the dauntless Archbishop, with prophetic vision and typically Irish determination—what others might call stubbornness, insisted on the need, to erect quote “a Cathedral in the City of New York that may be worthy of our increasing numbers, intelligence and wealth as a religious community, and as a public architectural monument to the present and prospective greatness of this metropolis of the American continent.” This block on 5th Avenue between 50th and 51st St. – Hughes’ Folly?
With the interlude of the Civil War, it was not until 1879, twenty years later, that America’s first Cardinal, John Cardinal McCloskey, finally dedicated this, America’s Cathedral. And what a symbolic triumph it was for all Catholics of New York, largely immigrants, highly suspect and openly rejected by the New York elite of the day. For the Irish of New York it was especially meaningful. Transplanted from a small spot in the north Atlantic where they were forced to smuggle bread and wine and priests into hidden forests for hushed celebrations of the Eucharist on “Mass rocks”, they now had complete freedom to build their churches openly. They were now proud Americans and loyal Catholics. In complete obedience to Church teaching, they brought children into this world many of whom would become priests, nuns and brothers saturating our country’s urban centers and building the vast empire of Catholic educational and charitable institutions