It may seem hard to believe now, but Catholics were once a tiny and rather unwelcome minority in New York City when Dutch and then English Protestantism reigned.
"Catholic New York City" is an edifying look at the arrival and growth of the Catholic community through photos, letters, documents and handbills. As the book notes, Catholicism came early to the region with the arrival of Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazano in 1524, but the first Catholic church wasn't built in the city until 1785.
Accounts of discrimination against Catholics appear throughout the book. In one case, Col. John Fremont, a Republican candidate for president in 1856, issued a four page leaflet denying he was Catholic because his opponents spread rumors about his religious background, citing various bits of "evidence": he and his wife were married by a Catholic priest; he had once turned down a Protestant hymnal, and so on. Fremont lost out to James Buchanan.
The old photos are marvelous, showing the faces, lives and leaders of the city's Catholic community:
The first Catholic mayor of New York, William Russell Grace, who was in office when the Statue of Liberty arrived in New York.
John Purroy Mitchel, the youngest mayor at 34, who was killed during aviation training in 1918; Mitchel Field is named for him.
Huge crowds turned out for Easter services at St. Patrick's Cathedral in 1913.
The Kerrymen's Patriotic and Benevolent Association as it marches in the St. Patrick's Day parade in 1909.
The many schools, orphanages, businesses and churches.
We also see photos of the many ethnic Catholic population:Irish, of course, but German, Italian, Hungarians, French Canadian and more. We also see what tough lives many of the immigrants experienced, gathering in tenements and working unbearably long hours at dangerous jobs.Children, their faces already old, can be seen working as seamstresses and shoeshine boys, or attending their confirmations and other religious events.
This makes an excellent gift for Catholics or others interested in New York City's history and how a once-despised and suspect group grew to leadership and power.