History of Schools


Two Centuries of Transforming Lives

In 1800, six years before the first public school was established in New York, Irish and German immigrants at St. Peter’s Parish founded a school for 100 students on Barclay Street in lower Manhattan. St. Peter’s School was the only Catholic school in Manhattan until St. Patrick’s (Old) Cathedral School opened in 1817 on Mott Street.

Archbishop John Hughes, who served New York from 1842 to 1864, is considered by some the grand architect of what would become the Catholic school system. Responding to the widespread anti-Catholicism of his time, particularly in the existing public schools, Archbishop Hughes built a parallel Catholic school system in New York. The schools were staffed by dedicated members of numerous religious orders, including the Sisters of Charity, the Ursuline Sisters, the Jesuits, the Dominicans, the De La Salle Christian Brothers and the Sisters of Mercy.

More than two dozen parochial schools opened during his tenure, and by 1870, more than 22,000 children – some 19 percent of the school-age children in New York City – were enrolled in Catholic schools.

In 1884, the American Catholic bishops decreed that every parish should have a school, and that it should be the first building constructed in the parish. By the end of the century, Catholic schools had become a major component of what American Catholic bishops considered “an Empire of Charity.” In New York, by 1900 there weremore than 55,000 students enrolled in parochial elementary schools and in Catholic secondary schools.

As Catholic New Yorkers began to move outside the city during the 20th Century, parishes across the seven counties of the Hudson Valley responded by opening schools to advance the Church’s mission to educate the mind, body and spirit of its people. Catholic school enrollment throughout the Archdiocese peaked in 1965, at the end of the Baby Boom.

In 2013, more than 71,000 children learn in 218 Catholic elementary and secondary schools across the nine Catholic school regions of the Archdiocese of New York, from Staten Island to Kingston.

The Catholic schools of Archdiocese grew and evolved to meet the changing needs of the families they served. And they have a long and successful history. Graduates have included the first Catholic to run for president, Al Smith, and the first Latina on the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor. Catholic school students in New York have been personally inspired by saints, including Elizabeth Anne Seton and Mother Frances Cabrini, who have taught in our classrooms.

From their founding more than 200 years ago, Catholic schools in the Archdiocese have placed special emphasis on providing educational opportunities for immigrants, a mission which continues today.

Inspired by our rich past and building on that tradition of excellence, we continue our mission to educate students intellectually, spiritually, morally and physically in an environment infused with the Gospel message; and we remain steadfast in our commitment to provide a Catholic education to every child who seeks it.