St. Columba Church & Parish School History

St. Columba Church was founded in 1845 by Reverend Joseph P. Burke. Initially, the congregation met in an area boathouse. Beginning with the first cornerstone laid on May 22 that year, the church building was constructed by devoted Catholics who worked as laborers on Manhattan’s west side docks along the Hudson River. All that summer, after longs hours loading and unloading ships by day, these men would spend evenings building Saint Columba, brick by brick, without benefit of electricity, before returning home to their families. The pre-Civil War Church was completed in less than five months and dedicated on the Feast of the Ascension, Sunday, October 12, 1845.

As you worship in Saint Columba Church, know that Catholic Union soldiers would have prayed there before heading out Civil War battle.  New York City’s infamous public rioting took place on nearby streets in the 1960s AND the 1860s. The Catholic immigrants and refugees attending mass in 1845 would not have been processed through Ellis Island, as it did not exist until nearly fifty years later. Saint Columba Church was already more than four decades old when the Statue of Liberty was dedicated out on the harbor. Three parish priests served in World War II Chaplain Corps. 

The Parish is the namesake of the Catholic Patron Saint of Poets. Saint Columba, aka Columcille (*dove of the church” in Gaelic) lived from 521-597 A.D. Columcille is the nickname that the Irish gave him, and call him by. An lrish Celtic Monastic, he founded the monastery on the island of lona, off Scotland, and was the Irish Missionary Monk who  led the Picts (Northern Scots) to Christ. He created some 300 books during his lifetime, including the well-known ancient treasure, *The Book of Kells.

Inside Saint Columba Church, three oil paintings along the east wall of the gallery testify the ministry of Saint Columba. He is also depicted in stained glass, along with Saint Patrick and Saint Brigid, above the three original southern entrance doors to the Church. The triumvirates are the Patron Saints of Ireland, the native land of the first parishioners. The majestic working organ rising up along the south wall of the gallery boasts three sets of pipe treasures by Midmer-Losh (1921), Ferris & Stuart (1856), and Robjohn (ca. 1845).

The Church is located along the northern border (now known as 25th Street) of the Eighteenth century farm named “Chelsea.” Owned by Clarke Moore who penned the famous poem A Visit from St. Nicholas in 1822, over the years Chelsea evolved into an urban neighborhood that became home to a remarkable number of poets, including Edwin Arlington Robinson, Dylan Thomas, Leonard Cohen, Gregory Corso, Hart Crane, Jose Marti, Wallace Stevens, Edger Lee Masters, James Schuyler, Jack Kerouac, Bob Dylan and Patti Smith.

Saint Columba Church erected its first frame school building on the site next door in 1848.  In 1856, it was replaced by a brick building and Saint Columba School was officially chartered in Manhattan. The third, and current, school building  on the site was dedicated in 1909 with a cornerstone that reads "for God and Country". Saint Columba School is the oldest private elementary school in Chelsea and served the community for more than 150 years,  but in June 2006, the Archdiocese of New York closed the school. 

Today, the parish at Saint Columba draws inspiration from the makeup of its ethnically diverse and multi-generational congregation. There is strong worshiping attendance from Latino, senior citizen and teen demographics. The 21st Century has brought an influx of young families to the surrounding community and with it an up tick in baptism ceremonies at Saint Columba Church. God Bless Saint Columba and its proud past, present and future. 

A framed version of the above history is on display in St. Columba Church. 

*"The Book of Kells" is available for IPad. 

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