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A Concise History of the Province of St. Elias – Part One of a Three-Part Series


The Irish population in America went from 6,000 in 1816 to over two million by 1854 with a large percentage of them living in and around New York City. By the last decade of the 19th century, the number of new Irish immigrants and second-generation Irish-Americans was close to four million. Serving the needs of this largely Catholic population was both a blessing and a problem to Archbishop Michael A. Corrigan. It was a blessing because the seeds of Catholicism had blossomed and there was every reason to believe it would continue to flower. It was a problem because there were not enough priests, especially native-born, to serve the Catholic population.

While Archbishop Corrigan’s predecessor, John Cardinal McCloskey, had done a yeoman’s job in building new parishes and increasing the number of priests in the Archdiocese of New York, more needed to be done to recruit priests from overseas.Legend has it that Cardinal McCloskey flatly turned down an offer by the Irish Carmelites (established in Dublin in 1271) to start a community in New York. Why? He supposedly turned his back on the Irish Carmelites in 1884 because his parents hailed from Derry and the Carmelites were from Dublin and there was a rivalry that existed between people from the two locales. In truth, the American-born McCloskey never had the time to fully consider the Irish Carmelites’ offer as he died in 1885.

Two years after Cardinal McCloskey’s death, Rev. Michael A. Moore, O. Carm. arrived in New York to begin the conversation anew with the new Archbishop Corrigan who had indicated he was open to the possibility of the Irish Carmelites opening a church in the Archdiocese.

On his arrival, Moore was approached by Monsignor James McMahon, pastor of St. Andrew’s, who made him an offer of an endowed foundation for the Carmelites on Manhattan’s Westside. The proposed piece of property happened to be owned by McMahon.

The conflict-of-interest aside, Archbishop Corrigan was not inclined to have the Carmelites open a new church in an area already well-served by Catholic churches. The Archbishop had another idea that would serve two purposes. Not only would it help establish the Carmelites in New York which in turn would increase the number of priests in the Diocese, it would also settle a “feud” between the Archbishop and the outspoken Dr. John McGlynn, pastor of St. Stephen’s on the Eastside. By carving a new parish out of McGlynn’s territory, it would diminish his influence over the burgeoning population of Irish Catholics as well as provide better care for the sick and poor at Bellevue Hospital.

When Father Moore returned to Ireland after a lengthy stay in Rome, he was replaced by Rev. John Elias Bartley, O.Carm., the Provincial of the Irish Province, who arrived in New York in October 1888 to continue the negotiations with Monsignor McMahon and Archbishop Corrigan. Father Bartley stayed with the Carmelites at St. Cecilia’s Priory in Englewood, New Jersey and made a number of trips into Manhattan until he agreed to accept the offer of a parish on the Eastside in December 1888.

Toward the end of January 1889, Rev. Theodore Mc Donald, O.Carm., of the Most Pure Heart of Mary Province of Carmelites in New Jersey, signed a deed of purchase for seven lots of land on 28th and 29th Streets between First and Second Avenues, from foundry mogul L.V. Conover with a price of $70,000 Father McDonald signed over the land to Archbishop Corrigan in April 1889.

Much work had to be done…and fast to build the dream. Father Bartley returned to Ireland on February 13, 1889 with the intention of recruiting other Carmelites to join him in turning a row of tenements and abandoned factories into the new parish of Our Lady of the Scapular of Mount Carmel. Upon the decision of the Irish Provincial Council, Father John Elias Bartley and fellow Carmelites Philip Paul McDonnell, Edward Patrick Southwell, and Michael Baptist Daly boarded the White Star Line’s S.S. Germanic on March 21, 1889. The ship arrived at Castle Garden in New York at 6:11 A.M. on Friday, March 29.

The “Founding Fathers” took up temporary residence at the Sinclair House (8th Avenue and Broadway). They then moved to a rented house at 336 East 30th Street while they waited for their new priory on 29th Street to be ready for occupancy.

In early April, soon after their arrival, the Carmelites were offering Mass at Saint Stephen’s and at the Bellevue Hospital chapel.  Father Edward Southwell spoke at all the Masses at Saint Stephen’s announcing the formation of the new parish

Palm Sunday, April 14, 1889, marked a milestone in Irish Carmelite history. The “Founding Fathers” offered the first Mass of the new parish of Our Lady of the Scapular in the former W. Duke Sons and Company cigarette factory. The factory was large enough to accommodate 500 worshipers. Seven Masses were offered on that first Easter, April 21, 1889.

The construction of Our Lady of the Scapular of Mount Carmel Church began in earnest in the summer of 1889. In anticipation of serving thousands of parishioners, additional Irish Carmelite Fathers John Eliseus Whitley and Thomas Joseph Feehan were welcomed into the Our Lady of the Scapular family. The care of Bellevue Hospital began at that time and continued up until 2007.

With the construction of Our Lady of the Scapular nearing completion, Father Bartley, who had been the first pastor, returned to Ireland. Father Michael Baptist Daly was made pastor, Father Edward Patrick Southwell was appointed prior, and Father Philip Paul McDonnell the procurator of the house.

That November, the Carmelites held the first of many fairs that would serve not only to raise the funds necessary to pay for the property and build the church, but would also serve as a way to build a community of faithful.

Three days before Christmas of 1889, Our Lady of the Scapular was dedicated with Archbishop Corrigan presiding and in February 1890, the altars were consecrated.

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