An Immigrant’s School Celebrates St. Patrick’s Day


Irish pride is prevalent in New York, notably at Lillie’s in Union Square. (ANDREW BEECHER/THE OBSERVER)


St. Patrick’s Day has become bigger than itself. The globally-known holiday celebrates Irish culture and St. Patrick, the Roman Catholic patron saint of Ireland. What used to be a simple feast-day for those of the Catholic faith has become something much grander. Parades, festivals, music, food, drink and dance are just some of the ways people celebrate this mid-March holiday, regardless of nationality.

For many New Yorkers, St. Patrick’s Day is one the most highly-anticipated holidays of the year. On March 17, whether you’re attending mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, cheering on the parade as it gallantly marches down Fifth Avenue or decking yourself out in every shamrock and shade of green, you’ll feel part of a culture deeply rooted in New York tradition.

For Fordham students, St. Patrick’s Day is a major part of our school’s culture, as an Irish immigrant founded the school. John Joseph Hughes, the founder of Fordham University, was born in 1797 in County Tyrone, Ireland. Though he lived the first 20 years of his life in Ireland, by 1817, he and his family had immigrated to the United States and settled down in Pennsylvania. Hughes applied to Mount Saint Mary’s College, and, by 1820, he was granted admission to the school.

In 1826, Hughes was ordained into the priesthood at St. Joseph’s Church in Philadelphia and began bettering the lives of those living in the city. He founded the St. John’s Orphan Asylum in 1829 and constructed a new church, St. John the Evangelist, in 1832. Hughes sought to educate others about the word of God and began to look for the ideal place to build a college. In 1846, he purchased 100 acres of land along the Bronx River and called it St. John’s College.

St. John’s became the first Catholic school of higher learning in the Northeast. In 1907, it added a law school and a medical school before it was sold to the Jesuit Order and renamed Fordham University. In December of 1842, Hughes became the bishop of the Diocese of New York, and, in his new position, re-focused schools to educate through the Catholic faith. He always gave extra consideration to the Irish children within those schools.

Irish pride is alive and well in the city of New York. It is the best place to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, other than Ireland. Be sure to check out the parade, which begins at 11 a.m. on March 17 and travels up Fifth Avenue between 44th Street and 79th Street. If you’re looking for some traditional Irish eats, try out Lillie’s in Union Square or Cronin and Phelan’s in Astoria. And if you’re looking to spend the day quietly inside, reflect on the roots of the institution we all attend and be proud of its beginnings. Fordham University is not only the product of an Irish immigrant, it has and always will be a place for immigrantsIrish and otherwise.