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History

A Brief History

No one knows the name of the first Catholic to set foot in what is now the Albany Diocese. That's because the history of Catholicism in the region begins far earlier than the official creation of the Diocese on April 23, 1847.

That first footstep could have been taken by one of the anonymous Irish monks who, many historians believe, sailed the North Atlantic long before Christopher Columbus. But it's doubtful that those visitors, if they got to North America at all, ventured so far inland. Maybe it was a French voyageur from Canada, canoeing down the Hudson to Beverwyck in search of fur. It might have been a Dutch sailor visiting Fort Orange or an Irish soldier in the service of the British Army.

Whoever it was, Catholics have been present in what is now the Albany Diocese for almost 300 years since at least the early settlers of the 17th century. Jesuit missionaries, using Quebec as their base, worked among the Iroquois, particularly the Mohawks. St. Isaac Jogues, the French Jesuit missionary, was martyred in Auriesville in 1646. Toward the end of the 17th century, Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, a Huron/Mohawk native, a product of the French missions along the Mohawk River where she was born, died. In the 17th century, other Catholics were present in what became the Albany Diocese, particularly French and Irish, including priests.

Long before the Declaration of Independence was signed, Scottish Catholics with their Irish priest were brought to the Mohawk valley by Sir William Johnson. After the American Revolution, Irish Catholics and a few escapees from the French Revolution immigrated here, as did French Canadians. By 1797, there were enough Catholics in Albany to support the building of St. Mary's Church, the second Catholic church in New York State.

In the ensuing 50 years, mission routes were established using the interlinking Mohawk and the Hudson/Champlain valleys as west, north and south corridors. New York was originally part of the Baltimore See, the only diocese in the United States until 1808 when the New York See was established. Over time, the counties contiguous to New York City became associated with that diocese, while Albany was the center for the rest of the state.

Since Buffalo became a diocese at the same time as Albany, the area was divided so that Buffalo acquired a north/south corridor that included Rochester on west. Albany had the rest of upper New York from Dutchess, Ulster and Sullivan counties on the south to the Syracuse area on the west, Canada on the north, and Vermont and Massachusetts on the east. (Subsequently, Ogdensburg and Syracuse were partitioned into their own dioceses, in 1872 and 1886 respectively.)

By 1847, 12 churches had been built and a dozen priests ministered in the area that now defines the Albany Diocese. Rt. Rev. John McCloskey, one of the first American-born priests in New York, became the Diocese's first bishop. Toward the end of the Civil War, he went back to New York City as archbishop (he would later become the first cardinal of the United States). But before he left Albany, he had increased the numbers of religious institutions, while the numbers of churches and priests rose by approximately 300 percent.

The second half of the 19th century was a time of massive immigration, especially from Ireland and Germany, as families due to economic privations, military impressment, religious persecution and other reasons searched for the income and freedoms promised in America. Throughout the Diocese, those immigrants founded churches to serve their nationalities: Irish, German, French, Italian, Polish, Lithuanian, Slovak and Ukrainian.

To minister to them, several religious communities were brought into the Diocese. The Religious of the Sacred Heart, the Sisters of Mercy and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet came to teach girls in both parish and private schools; the Christian Brothers arrived to teach boys and eventually to maintain two male orphanages, one in Albany and one in Troy. The Daughters of Charity, who already directed an orphanage for girls in Albany, were asked to start one in Troy, as well as a hospital, St. Mary's.

The Society of Jesus and the Fathers of the Order of Saint Augustine came as parish priests to Troy, while the Franciscan Fathers of the Order of Minor Conventual arrived to serve German-speaking churches in Schenectady and Gloversville.

Rev. John J. Conroy, who had been the pastor of St. Joseph's parish in Albany, became the Diocese's second bishop in 1865, the year Abraham Lincoln died. Although he was active only 12 years, under his auspices more parishes were formed, and religious communities were expanded and introduced to staff ever-widening educational and social services. Among those services was St. Peter's Hospital, started in Albany by the Sisters of Mercy. They also opened an orphanage and industrial school in Greenbush (East Albany or Rensselaer).

Bishop Conroy also brought in the Little Sisters of the Poor, who started homes for the aged in Troy and Albany, as well as the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, who worked with girls at the Reformatory of the Good Shepherd and St. Anne's School of Industry.

Closing out the 19th century as head of the Diocese was Bishop Francis McNierney, who was installed in 1877. He completed the imposing Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, begun by his predecessors and modeled on the Cathedral in Cologne, Germany. Leading the Diocese into the new century was Bishop Thomas Burke, a native of Ireland and another pastor of St. Joseph's Church in Albany (where he had been stationed for 30 years from the end of the Civil War until his appointment as bishop). He served from 1894 until 1915.

The brief World War I-era stint of Bishop Thomas Cusack, a noted preacher, was followed by the longest tenure of any Albany bishop: Edmund Gibbons, who served from 1919 to 1954. The son of Irish immigrants and a laborer who helped build the State Capitol in Albany, Bishop Gibbons was remarkable for the leadership he provided through the Depression and World War II, a leadership that inspired many religious vocations and spawned building programs that resulted in parishes springing up throughout the Diocese. With education as one of his themes, he oversaw the beginning of The College of Saint Rose, Siena College, Mater Christi Seminary, 22 high schools, 82 grade schools and the diocesan newspaper, The Evangelist.

His successors Bishop William Scully, Bishop Edward Maginn and Bishop Edwin Broderick led the Church at Albany into the second half of the 20th century, building new parishes as suburbs were populated, attending the Second Vatican Council and then promulgating the documents of that historic meeting of Church Fathers throughout the sprawling Diocese.

In 1977, a native of the Diocese, Howard J. Hubbard of Troy, was named bishop. His tenure has been marked by the goals outlined in his two pastoral letters: collaboration, collegiality and shared responsibility. Under his guidance, lay men and women have assumed positions of leadership in parishes and in diocesan departments. He has also continued a long-standing tradition in the Diocese: reaching out to those of other denominations and faiths. In historic events, he has established strong relations with the Albany Episcopal Diocese, hosted a reconciliation service with the Jewish community, cooperated with other Christians on important social issues and spoken from the pulpits of other churches.

The history of the Albany Diocese is still being written.

Statistics

Diocese Established: April 23, 1847

Area: 10,419 Square Miles

Total population of the 14 County Diocese: approx. 1,392,464
(as of 2011)

Catholic population of the
14 County Diocese: approx. 330,000
(as of December 2011)


As of December 31, 2012

Parishes/Apostolates:
127 Parishes
2 Apostolates

Diocesan Priests 196
Active 106
Retired 90

Religious Order Priests 60

Ordained Deacons 107
Active     85
Retired   22

Religious Brothers 56

Religious Sisters 604

Elementary Schools
Diocesan and Parish: 19
Students: 4,527
Private: 2
Students: 196

High Schools
Diocesan: 4
Students: 1,190
Private: 3
Students: 1056

Diocesan School Techers

Elementary

Religious Brothers & Sisters: 8
Lay Teachers: 549

High School

Religious Brothers & Sisters: 4
Lay Teachers: 137

Colleges
: 4
Students: 10,000 (Approximate)

Campus Ministry

Chapters: 14
Chaplains: 5
Priests: 6
Deacon: 1
Religious: 2
Lay Campus Ministers: 6

Catechetical Programs
Leaders: 193
Catechists: 3,088
Youth Ministers: 56

Parish Faith Formation
Elementary & Junior High: 17619
High School: 6320

Catholic Hospitals: 3
Capacity: Approximately 781 Beds (including 75 Maternity Bassinets)


Convalescent, Rest Homes, Guest Houses, Homes for the Aged and Residences: 7
Capacity: 1010

Social Service Agencies: 19
Employees: 1,070
People Served: 100,684  (approx.)

Senior Citizen Housing: 16 communities in 15 locations throughout Albany, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady and Delaware Counties.
Total Apts.: 948 one and two bedroom apartments and
56 two bedroom cottages


Retreat Houses and Houses of Prayer: 11

Religious Communities of Men in the Diocese
Priests: 8
Religious Brothers: 6

Motherhouses, Novitiates and Scholasticates for Sisters: 2

Religious Communities of Women in the Diocese
: 22

Secular Institutes: 1