In April of 1908, the Archdiocese of New York celebrated the 100th anniversary of its establishment by Pope Pius VII in April of 1808. An entire week of Masses, lectures, concerts and such in every corner of the Archdiocese culminated in a “Solemn Pontifical Mass” in St. Patrick’s Cathedral with the Archbishop of Armagh in Ireland, Michael Cardinal Logue, as celebrant, and James Cardinal Gibbons, the Archbishop of Baltimore, as preacher. On Fifth Avenue thousands led Cardinal Logue to the Cathedral for the Mass, with the commentators and newspaper writers of the day observing in chorus that he was the 114th Successor of St. Patrick in the Primatial See of Armagh. All were sure that there would never be a celebration in the Archdiocese to match the one in which Cardinal Logue was the centerpiece.

The Most Reverend John M. Farley was the Archbishop of New York at the time. (He became a cardinal in 1911.) Born in Armagh in 1842 and orphaned as a teenager, he was brought to New York to be reared by a well-to-do uncle. In 1865, he graduated from St. John’s College (now Fordham University) and was then sent to Rome to study for the priesthood at the Pontifical North American College. In 1870 he was ordained a priest, having been present in the Eternal City for all sessions of the First Vatican Council.

Father Farley’s first assignment was as a curate at St. Peter’s parish on Staten Island. Two years later, he became the priest-secretary of Archbishop (later Cardinal) John McCloskey, who had come to know him in Rome during the Council. In 1884 he was appointed pastor of St. Gabriel’s parish in Manhattan and 11 years later was named Auxiliary Bishop to Archbishop Michael Corrigan.

A scarce four months after the death of Archbishop Corrigan in May of 1902, Bishop Farley was chosen by Pope Leo XIII to be the Archbishop of New York. The choice was made after the Archbishops of the United States, the Bishops of New York, and the “Consultors and Irremovable Pastors” of the Archdiocese had all made him their first choice in formal votings. This was the last Archbishop for whom these groups were required to express a preference, inasmuch as the practice was eliminated in the 1918 Code of Canon Law.

Because of endless confrontations and controversies throughout the tenure of Archbishop Corrigan, the Archdiocese sorely needed a change of direction; and Archbishop Farley was clearly the man to lead it. He was a wise, refined and extraordinarily kind clergyman who never sought attention for himself. He was respected by clergy and laity alike, and he knew how to bring peace and understanding where before there had been antagonism and hurt. An example of his gift in this regard is the manner in which he won over the so-called “Accademia,” a group of progressive-minded priests who had made life ever more difficult for Archbishop Corrigan during his 17 years as shepherd of the Archdiocese. Archbishop Farley was not one to compromise principles, but he knew how to listen and was therefore able to bring former opponents into the fold without any show of superiority or condescension.

So too he established the best of relations with Cardinal Gibbons, with whom Archbishop Corrigan had had his misunderstandings, ended the opposition of the Archdiocese of New York to the creation and development of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and deftly achieved a cordial rapport with the alienated Papal Delegate to the United States and a number of key members of the American hierarchy who held views about education and diocesan administration different from those of Archbishop Corrigan. With the appointment of Archbishop Farley, a new day had quietly dawned; and those who were most deeply involved in the work of the Church in New York recognized and rejoiced in it.

In the new atmosphere, significant progress could be made in virtually every area and every field of activity of the Archdiocese. In his 16 years leading an immense and growing community of faith, Archbishop Farley established 68 new parishes and 50 new parish schools, brought numerous communities of religious to New York to found high schools and academies in the City and beyond, supported the creation of three new institutions of higher learning (The College of New Rochelle, College of Mount St. Vincent and Manhattanville College), initiated an Archdiocesan minor seminary known as Cathedral Preparatory, served the ever more numerous immigrants from Italy with great effectiveness in the face of well-financed proselytism by various religious groups, brought 122 Catholic charitable agencies and institutions into a coalition to correct administrative practices that were widely criticized by political leaders and the press, led the Archdiocese into institutional involvement with the great social issues of the era such as child labor and housing for the poor, welcomed the National Society for the Propagation of the Faith to New York so as to enhance support of the Missions across the land, opened the way for the founding of the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO), fostered with uncommon success such spiritual movements as Eucharistic adoration in parishes and retreats for the laity, championed the publication of a Catholic Encyclopedia that has never been surpassed, and completed and paid for the Lady Chapel in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The Vicar General of the Archdiocese, Msgr. Michael J. Lavelle, put it well when he declared upon hearing of the passing of the Archbishop: “This was a man perfectly suited for his position.”

In 1914, Archbishop Farley, a cardinal since 1911, was in Europe in connection with his work for the Missions. Thus he was able to participate in the Conclave that elected Pope Benedict XV, and was the only American to do so. His service to the Archdiocese was recognized by Rome as nothing short of outstanding, especially as a result of his handling of the two most daunting challenges of his years as Archbishop.

The first had to do with bringing together and improving the numerous Catholic agencies and institutions of charity that had grown up in New York, thanks in large measure to the dedicated labors of religious women and men. There were deficiencies in planning, in the training of staff and in supervision. There was much duplication, and there was also a good deal of unhelpful competitiveness. Finally, there were areas of need that were being totally neglected.

With calm, understanding and tenacity, the Cardinal formed a series of organizations that, one by one, begot greater cooperation among Catholic charitable undertakings and more professional care for those whom they served. In all of this, he was aided by deeply committed laity and incredibly devoted members of a score of religious communities. The outcome was the inauguration of a Catholic Charities system that became one of the glories of the Church in New York during the tenure of Cardinal Farley’s successor, Patrick Cardinal Hayes.

The other principal challenge of Cardinal Farley’s years had to do with a publication edited by professors of the Archdiocesan seminary that occasioned suspicions in Rome and led to not a little upset in the seminary program. The publication was called The New York Review and was subtitled “A Journal of Faith and Modern Thought.” The Cardinal was in favor of it from the outset and agreed to its discontinuance with a heavy heart. Commentators are divided as regards the prudence of the editorial staff, given the doubts that had been raised about the publication in the minds of Roman authorities, who were particularly sensitive to anything that smacked of a rather poorly defined theological tendency known as “Modernism.” Similarly, some authors believe that Cardinal Farley was uncareful in sponsoring the publication originally, while others insist he was wise in sponsoring it and unwise in ending it. The matter will be argued as long as the history of the Archdiocese is studied by experts over the years that lie ahead.

The commemorative medal that is pictured along with this article was struc k 100 years ago on the occasion of the Centennial Celebration of the establishment of the Archdiocese of New York. On one side there is a large image of Cardinal Farley in the center surrounded by smaller images of the Bishops and Archbishops of New York who preceded him in office. (About each of them I have written brief accounts for Catholic New York over the past several months as a modest contribution to the celebration of our Bicentennial.)

On the reverse side of the medal, one sees St. Patrick’s Cathedral in the center with the original Cathedral building to the right and our first German parish church, St. Nicholas, to the left. As we prepare to conclude the festivities of our 200th Anniversary with the extraordinary “Pastoral Visit” of His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, to New York, the Centennial Medal seems to put things into context very well indeed.

For our 100th anniversary, the Irish Cardinal, who was the 114th Successor of St. Patrick, led us in our Solemn Mass of Thanksgiving; and for our 200th anniversary, the German Pope, who is the 265th Successor of St. Peter, will be doing the same. “No one would have imagined that you New Yorkers of 2008 would outdo our celebration of 1908,” Cardinal Farley will be saying from his place in heaven with a broad smile on his face. “But you have, and for this heartfelt congratulations! May the People of God of New York grow each day in love and esteem for the illustrious celebrant of your Bicentennial Mass. He is a gift for which the Church in New York and across the world will never be able to thank the Lord enough.”

Edward Cardinal Egan
Archbishop of New York