Andrew Carney facilitates the purchase of St. Vincent de Paul Church in South Boston
On May 1, 1848 -- 175 years ago this week -- the bishop of Boston, John B. Fitzpatrick, wrote "the first payment on the stone (church on) Purchase Street is made through Mr. Carney . . . The (Bishop's) agent in the matter." This marked the purchase of a new church, St. Vincent de Paul, for the Catholics of the South Boston community.
By 1848, the Fort Hill (later Fort Point) neighborhood of South Boston had become a community for newly arrived immigrants, many of them Irish. This resulted in a shift in demographics, as many residents left to avoid the influx of immigrants. As this occurred, the Unitarian population in the area diminished to the point where they could no longer support a church, resulting in the trustee's decision to sell the property in 1848.
The church structure, the one described by Bishop Fitzpatrick in his journal on May 1, came at an opportune time for the Catholics of Boston to establish a church in a newly developing area of the city. However, the negotiation of the sale of the structure was cloaked in secrecy. "The owners do not know that they are selling to Catholics," Bishop Fitzpatrick noted in his journal on April 4, a few weeks before the negotiations were finalized. Rather than revealing the true nature of the sale, Boston merchant and philanthropist Andrew Carney acted on behalf of the bishop and concealed his Catholic ties, highlighting the tension caused by anti-Catholic sentiments at the time.
In the 1840s, vehement anti-Catholicism pervaded Boston, a fact Bishop John Fitzpatrick would have been very familiar with. In addition to concealing the true intention of the negotiation between Carney and the Unionist trustees, the bishop inserted a clause in the bond of sale, stating that if either party failed to fulfill the sale, they must forfeit $10,000 in order to deter any refusal on behalf of the trustees should they learn who the real buyers were.
The foresight to include the stipulation proved to be essential, as "several of the Proprietors (of) this Church, when learned that the Catholics had bought it for their own use, were unwilling to sell and endeavored to rescind the agreement," revealing the deeply rooted bias towards the Catholic community at the time. Despite the stipulation in place, the Unitarians, led by Deacon Eliphalet Baker, attempted to back down from the agreement by offering $3,000, which was promptly refused by Carney on behalf of the bishop. Rather than being forced to relinquish the $10,000, the Unitarian trustees agreed to the sale and thus St. Vincent de Paul Church was established in South Boston.
Andrew Carney was fundamental to accomplishing the sale of the Purchase Street church and played an even larger role in the development of the Catholic Church in the greater Boston area in the 1800s. Emigrating from Ireland in 1816, Carney arrived in Boston with very little, but by 1845, he was one of the richest men in the city and the wealthiest Catholic in New England. His fortune was owed to his business endeavors as one of the first in the area to provide ready-made men's clothing. By the 1830s, he was contacted by the U.S. government to supply uniforms for the army, cementing his fortune and influence.
While Carney clearly demonstrated a penchant for business by building himself up from destitution amid a deeply anti-Catholic and anti-Irish society, his philanthropy throughout the Boston area distinguished him from others and brought him into close friendship with two bishops of Boston -- Bishops Fenwick and Fitzpatrick. His achievements and influence can be traced throughout influential Catholic institutions in Boston that still exist today and at the time of his death was remembered by The Pilot as a man dedicated to "an active, living faith and a practical charity which . . . (was) manifested in his works for the orphan and the sick." Carney's dedication to those in need resulted in his role as benefactor of the House of the Angel Guardian for Homeless Boys, a temporary home for neglected boys run by the Brothers of Charity, and the Home for Destitute Catholic Children. In addition to this, Carney acted as a trustee to the St. Vincent's Female Orphan Asylum.
Carney's philanthropic support of the Catholic community was not simply limited to that of orphanage institutions. In 1864, he gifted a South Boston estate to the Sisters of Charity, resulting in the founding of Carney Hospital, the first Catholic hospital in New England. He was also an early supporter of Boston College, donating to the college throughout his life and leaving $25,000 at the time of his death. Both the hospital and the college remember his legacy today, as Carney Hospital and Carney Hall at Boston College still bear his name. His generosity was monumental to the development of the Archdiocese of Boston through the 19th century.
The negotiation of the purchase of the stone church on Purchase Street in South Boston was simply one aspect of Carney's generous devotion to acting out his faith for the benefit of his fellow Catholics. By May 14, 1848, the new church, St. Vincent de Paul, celebrated its first Mass sung by Father Nicholas J. A. O'Brien and Bishop Fitzpatrick preached.
JOY ZANGHI IS AN ARCHIVIST FOR THE ARCHDIOCESE OF BOSTON.