Old St. Peter’s is the Mother Church of Catholic New York, as it is the oldest Roman Catholic parish in New York City and New York State. The Roman Catholic Church was not permitted to function in New York during the Dutch and British colonial periods, except for the administration of Gov. Thomas Dongan (1683-88), who was himself Catholic. The American Revolution changed all this, and in 1785, after the British evacuation of New York, St. Peter’s Church was founded. Property was acquired on Barclay Street, and the first church constructed on the site of the present church. St. Peter’s Parish opened the first Catholic school in the state of New York in 1800.
Elizabeth Ann Seton was received into the Roman Catholic Church at St. Peter’s in 1805. Born in New York City in 1774, Elizabeth often prayed before The Crucifixion painting above St. Peter’s main altar. (This painting by Mexican artist Jose Vallejo was a gift from the archbishop of Mexico City in 1789.) A widow and mother of five, the former Episcopalian eventually went on to found the Sisters of Charity. Elizabeth was the first person born in the (soon-to-be) United States to become a canonized saint (September 14, 1975).
The cornerstone of the present building was laid in 1836. Designed by John R. Haggerty and Thomas Thomas, the Greek Revival structure is built of granite and has a facade with six Ionic columns. St. Peter’s was the first church in the archdiocese to offer midday services, and by the 1940s St. Peter’s was becoming more of a service church as the financial district gave way to stores and tall office buildings, with thousands entering the area each day for work.
In 1965, St. Peter’s was designated a landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. The church is located just north of the World Trade Center towers, and was a staging area for emergency responders. The body of the Rev. Mychal Judge, Chaplain to the New York City Fire Department and officially the first casualty of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack, was brought to St. Peter’s by firefighters and laid before the altar. (source: http://www.nycago.org/Organs/NYC/html/StPeterRC.html)