Monsignor Thomas J. Shelley, professor of theology at Fordham University, has written one book on Catholics in New York and will publish another as part of the Archdiocese of New York’s bicentennial.
Photo courtesy of Monsignor Thomas Shelley

The Archdiocese of New York launched its bicentennial celebration with an opening liturgy by Edward Cardinal Egan at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on April 15 and proclamations were read at all Masses across the archdiocese. The yearlong celebration will feature a series of special liturgies as well as museum exhibits and lectures, and as part of the bicentennial Monsignor Thomas J. Shelley, Ph.D., professor of historical theology at Fordham University, has been commissioned by the archdiocese to write two books on the history of Catholics in New York.

The first book, Empire State Catholics: A History of the Catholic Community in New York State (Editions du Signe, 2007), which is a textbook for junior high school students, was published earlier this year. The second book, The Bicentennial History of the Archdiocese of New York, will focus specifically on the development of the Archdiocese of New York.

In 1808, the diocese covered the whole state and the northern part of New Jersey with about 15,000 Catholics, six or seven priests and three churches. Today, the same area includes two archdioceses, nine dioceses, 6,000 priests, 2,000 churches and over 11 million Catholics. “In 1808, not even the wildest optimist could have imagined such a development,” Monsignor Shelley said.

Monsignor Shelley has written numerous articles and four books on the history of Catholics in New York. His most recent books are Slovaks on the Hudson: Most Holy Trinity Church, Yonkers, and the Slovak Catholics in the Archdiocese of New York, 1894-2000 (Catholic University of America Press, 2002) and Greenwich Village Catholics: St. Joseph’s Church and the Evolution of an Urban Faith Community, 1829-2003 (Catholic University of America Press, 2003).

The archdiocese is one of the oldest in the country, established on April 8, 1808, together with the archdioceses of Boston, Philadelphia and Bardstown, Kentucky (later moved to Louisville). It covers Manhattan, Staten Island and the Bronx as well as Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan, Ulster, and Westchester counties, and serves as the metropolitan see of the ecclesiastical province of New York, which includes the suffragan dioceses of Brooklyn, Albany, Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester, Ogdensburg and Rockville Centre.

As part of the bicentennial, the Historical Society of Rockland County has opened an exhibition titled “Rockland’s Catholic Heritage: The Bicentennial of the Archdiocese of New York,” which will run through June 17. The Museum of the City of New York is also planning an exhibition on “Catholics in New York, 1808–1946” later this year.

In January, the archdiocese launched a $200 million capital campaign, its first in almost 20 years, in honor of the bicentennial. The campaign has already raised $90 million, much of it for upkeep and additions to its 405 parishes.

By Victor M. Inzunza