Building Bridges

In the mid-1800s, Irish Catholics arrived in the U.S. in dramatic numbers. They were often confronted with severe and ugly discrimination, and they reacted in various ways. One such reaction—uncommon in its time—was that of Fr. Sylvester Malone. To hear more about this unique man, join us and Geoffrey Cobb on Saturday, May 6 at 2 p.m. in hall of historic St. Mary’s Church, 440 Grand Street (east of Clinton St.), Manhattan. Take F, J, or M trains to Delancy St. stop. Reception to follow. Suggested donation: $5.

Father Sylvester Malone, (1821–1899) one of the builders of the diocese of Brooklyn, established the parish of Sts. Peter and Paul in Williamsburg,  Brooklyn, in 1844 and served as the church’s pastor for an amazing fifty-one years. Malone grew the parish from a few dozen souls to five thousand, but his work in building bridges to non-Catholics is his greatest legacy.

Born in Trim, Co. Meath in 1821, Malone was lucky enough to be educated at a mixed denomination school where many of his friends were Protestants. His friendliness to non-Catholics would later serve him well in America. Recruited to become an American priest, Malone arrived in 1840 and was ordained four years later and sent to Brooklyn, where he encountered the fierce anti-Catholicism of the nativists. Malone not only overcame this prejudice, but also won the admiration of Protestant clergy through his passionate devotion to the Union cause in the Civil War and his fervent ecumenisms. His death in 1899 was mourned not only by thousands of Catholics, but also by all the religious groups in Williamsburg.

Geoffrey Cobb is a Brooklyn historian who teaches at the High School for Service and Learning. He has recently published his second book, The King of Greenpoint, a biography of Peter McGuinness, Brooklyn’s colorful political leader. His earlier book, Greenpoint: Brooklyn’s Forgotten Past, presents the stories of people who shaped the area’s history. Mr. Cobb has lived in Brooklyn, and researched its history, for nearly twenty-five years.

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