Thomas Paine and St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral – 200 years ago

Two hundred years ago, June 8,  1809 was the cornerstone laying for St. Patrick’s (Old) Cathedral near Canal Street in what was then uptown  New York City.    That same day nearby in New York City was the death of Thomas Paine, author of Common Sense.  And an interesting link between these two events.  

Jesuit Fr. Anthony Kohlmann   presided at the cornerstone ceremony. He was vicar General and administrator  in charge of the 15,000 Catholics in the city. He had  purchased the land for St. Patrick’s, so there would be a second church at  Mott  and Mulberry Street, in addition to the only other Catholic Church,  St. Peter’s on Barclay Street.  

Advertisement

That same Fr. Kohlmann, in company with Fr. Benedict Fenwick, S.J. had recently paid an unsuccessful visit to the dying Thomas Paine. A woman baptized by Fenwick had told Paine that only a Catholic priest could cure him. When the two priests arrived and started talking with Paine, they asked  about his soul rather than his bodily pains.  Paine, rationalist to the end,  ordered them out of the room. According to the  account of Fr. Fenwick,  they were chased away by Paine and left, followed by blasphemies.  Soon after that,  Paine’s life ended on the same day that St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral was begun, June 8, 1809. 

Peter Schineller, S.J.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.

Advertisement

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

Chilean clerical sex abuse survivors Juan Carlos Cruz, James Hamilton and Jose Andres Murillo in Rome, May 2. The three met Pope Francis individually at the Vatican April 27-29. The Vatican announced on May 22 that a second group of abuse victims will visit the pope in June (CNS photo/Paul Haring).
The encounters will take place from June 1-3 at Santa Marta, the Vatican guesthouse where Francis lives.
Gerard O’ConnellMay 22, 2018
Pope Francis talks with Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston, president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, as they arrive for a meeting in the synod hall at the Vatican in this Feb. 13, 2015, file photo. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) 
Righteous call-outs should be patterned after Cardinal O’Malley’s rebuke of Pope Francis on sex abuse.
Simcha FisherMay 22, 2018
In May, my cousin Christina and her husband Tyler were murdered in their home.
John J. ConleyMay 22, 2018
Follow Father Arturo Sosa's first visit to the Jesuits in Canada!
America StaffMay 22, 2018