St. Mary's Catholic Church

St. Mary's Roman Catholic church was incorporated by the State legislature in October 1796 and began operations the following year - making it the second oldest parish in New York State. St. Mary's was the fifth or sixth church to open in the city of Albany.

Catholics had been part of the Albany population since the early days of the community. They were chiefly of French, German, and Irish ancestries.

In 1699, an "Albany" list of those who swore an oath of allegiance to the Protestant king of England noted that Frans Pruyn and "Villeroy" (Pierre De Garmo) were "Papists" and were excused from swearing in lieu of otherwise attesting to their loyalty to William & Mary.

For most of the eighteenth century, Albany's Catholics found basic spiritual services under the Albany Dutch church but do not seem to have become members. Probably because of worship similarities and language, Catholics had gravitated to St. Peter's and Lutheran churches.

In 1796, the first trustees were: Thomas Barry, Louis Le Coulteaux, Daniel McEvers, Terrence O'Donnell, Jeremiah Driscoil, Michael Bagley, James Robichaux (the first public meeting was held at his house), William Donovan, and Philip Farrell. The cornerstone of the first church building was laid by Barry in September 1797. Long time resident Thomas Barry appears to have led the drive for funding church construction as well.

Catholic priests and missionaries had visited Albany since Father Isaac Jogues was ransomed by Dutch traders and brought to Fort Orange in 1642 or 1643. Other visitors of note included the Carroll brothers of Maryland, Fr. Pierre de Valiniere (1792) of Canada, and others. Traditional sources tell us that services were held in private homes at least after the American Revolution. Rev. John Thayer appears to have been the first "missionary rector" while the church was being built in 1798. Fr. Matthew O'Brien succeeded him and served as pastor til 1800.

By 1820, St. Mary's counted over 300 parishioners (in a booming city of 12,600 residents)

St. Agnes Cemetery is the historic cemetery of record for Albany's Catholics.

Just the beginning! - please be patient!


Sources: The printed source of record is: John J. Dillon, The Historic Story of St. Mary's, Albany, N. Y. . . . 1798-1932 (New York, 1933). It is not yet directly online. A massive Catholic History bibliography appears in Sally Light, Canals & Crossroads: An Illustrated History of the Albany, New York Roman Catholic Diocese (Albany, 1997). A list of early burials from the Catholic Church is sometimes available online. A summary of historical information is available in Weise, History of the city . . .. This link to the St. Mary's website which includes some historical material. However, I generally begin with the Wikipedia entry which is a good bet to become more and more useful. St. Mary's is considered in a larger political framework in a more recent monograph by Albany's own Jason K. Duncan.

Note: Existing printed resources are focused primarily on priests and organizational concerns. This page will begin to address the lives of rank-and-file Catholics such as Jean Rosie in early Albany.

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privately posted:4/25/04; last revised 9/22/12