Saturday, July 15, 2006

From Catholic New York

You may remember that, back in May, the archdiocese of New York announced plans for "The Catholic Channel," to kick off on Sirius Satellite Radio in late September.

It'll make for a bit of an expedited start-up, but the Channel's first major move -- the hiring of its program director -- is expected shortly. Once the PD's in place, we'll have a better idea of how the venture will tackle its mission and the mix of elements which will mark the outlet's introduction to the Sirius audience. (The satellite provider, by the by, recently announced the addition of 600,000 more subscribers in its second quarter, for a total of 4.678 million listeners.)

Things media seem to be keeping on an uptick in the Big Apple. The archdiocese has added a blog to its website -- Catholic Views, written by Fr Paul Keenan of its Communications Office. What it lacks in pizazz it makes up for in precedent; Views is the first blog published by an official church entity in the United States.

Meanwhile, my long push for a blogging bishop continues....

New York is the first of the Four Old Suffragans -- i.e. those sees (Philadelphia, Boston and Bardstown (now Louisville) are the others) which mark their bicentenaries in 2008 -- to publicize plans and initiatives for the big anniversary. Hopefully the others catch up quickly; after all, a celebration of 200 years doesn't happen everyday.

In his recent columns in the archdiocesan newspaper, Cardinal Edward Egan has been touching on aspects of the history of the church in New York.

His most recent contribution centers on Fr Anthony Kohlmann, a Jesuit priest who served as the nascent diocese's interim head for its first seven years. (The first bishop of New York, an Irish Dominican named Richard Luke Concanen, died at Venice on his way to his diocese.)
As a young priest, Father Kohlmann was, above all, a pastor of souls. Indeed, he worked so diligently and selflessly during a flu epidemic in Austria in 1799 that the citizens of one Austrian town declared him "A Martyr of Charity"; and his priestly dedication over the next six years as a chaplain in a military hospital in northern Italy won him the same kind and measure of admiration and love. Nonetheless, because of his unusual academic abilities, in 1805 he was transferred to Georgetown, a village outside of Washington, D.C., to teach philosophy in a college newly established by the Jesuits, whose number he had joined earlier that year in Russia, where the suppression of the Jesuit order was not recognized by the Czar.

Three years later, the Diocese of New York came into being without a bishop, and the new Archbishop Carroll needed to put someone in charge, at least temporarily. He settled on Father Kohlmann, and the choice could not have been better. The diocese included the entire State of New York and half of the State of New Jersey. It boasted around 20,000 Catholics and had only three churches, one of which was St. Peter's on Barclay Street in lower Manhattan. Father Kohlmann became assistant pastor of St. Peter's and shortly thereafter was named also vicar general of the diocese by the bishop from Naples.

As vicar general, Father Kohlmann traveled extensively throughout the huge territory of the Diocese, baptizing, hearing Confessions, witnessing weddings, anointing the sick, and-first and foremost-offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. His work at St. Peter's, where soon he effectively became the pastor, was also most impressive, as we know from his written reports to Archbishop Carroll. On Sundays and Holy Days, he celebrated three Masses, preaching in English, German and French. During the week he held three sessions of catechetics for children and adults. He heard Confessions on weekdays until 11 o'clock at night. And he made regular visits to hospitals, the local "common schools," and well-to-do citizens who might help him in his "service to the sick and embellishment of churches."

In addition to all of this, he founded a school for boys, a school for girls, and an orphanage, along with residences for the religious sisters and brothers who staffed these institutions. And wonder of wonders: he built a cathedral for the diocese, "St. Patrick's Old Cathedral" on Mott Street, in lower Manhattan. Two years ago, the Trustees of St. Patrick's Cathedral on Fifth Avenue, who are also Trustees of St. Patrick's Old Cathedral, completely renovated Father Kohlmann's splendid house of worship. It was the largest and most elegant church in New York City and State when it was constructed and is today truly magnificent both inside and out.

Most people who are somewhat familiar with the life of Father Anthony Kohlmann know principally of his heroism in connection with the seal of the Sacrament of Penance. In 1813, a merchant in New York City claimed that an unidentified thief, at the direction of Father Kohlmann in Confession, restored to the merchant goods he had stolen from him. The district attorney demanded to know the name of the thief; and Father Kohlmann respectfully, but adamantly, refused to respond, saying that he would prefer to be imprisoned or even put to death.

A long and widely publicized trial ensued in which the chief judge was DeWitt Clinton, later Governor of New York. With unexpected and enthusiastic support from the usually truculent Trustees of St. Peter's, Father Kohlmann won the day; and 15 years later, after he had left New York for assignments in Washington and then in Rome, the State of New York passed a law protecting the seal of Confession, a law signed by Governor Clinton.
Egan spoke extensively of Kohlmann at the Society's Tri-Jubilee celebration in New York in late April... as they're not used to being reminded of their heavy-duty role at the beginnind, the homily left many Jesuits in tears.

SVILUPPO: Thanks to a reader in LA for sending along the correx that "in January 2005 the Archdiocese of Anchorage launched a Web site with several blogs, one of which is the weekly reflection by Fr. LeRoy Clementich, who has received a Catholic Press Association Award for his series." The archdiocese of Los Angeles began a blog to keep track of its synodal implementation, but it must be buried somewhere on

Bottom line: as far as the race to blogdom is concerned, "New York loses"...

All apologies for the error.