In the 1890’s all of New York was talking about this hot, new supposedly miraculous piece of St. Anne being displayed at St. Jean Baptiste Catholic Church at 159 East 76th Street on the Upper East Side. Alice Wright (1442 Greene Ave., Brooklyn) was cured of a spine disease, Mrs. M.F. Dunn (1653 Third Ave., Manhattan) had her cancer cured, Mrs. Anna Fay (174 West Ninety-Eighth Street) was cured of headaches and insomnia, and little 5 year old Mary Leahy discarded the braces she had been forced to wear for two years. Other cures included, according to this 1897 New York Times article:
So, how did this saintly chunk get to New York? For the answer we have to go back to 19th century Quebec.
Between 1840 and 1930 some 900,000 francophones moved south spurred on by unfair and often harsh treatment by the ruling english. In the Eastern Townships the Catholic Church was not even allowed to purchase land until 1849 and the promise of industrial work in Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts pulled nearly a million Quebecers down to New England. Like this guy’s family:
On Manchester, New Hampshire’s West Side the first credit union ever chartered in the Unites States was founded in 1908. What we know as the Caisse Populaire was a new concept south of the border and St. Mary’s Bank, which is still exists today was a hit. French-Canadiens left a massive mark on New England as any casual perusal of a Lowell, Mass. street map will show and there are plenty of french families that integrated fully into American society generations ago still kicking around. Now, most emigrants from Quebec went to New England but some went a little further south to New York City. They settled in Yorkville, Manhattan (between the 96th Street, 3rd Ave., 72nd Street and the river) and with no church of their own to worship at a chapel was established in a rented hall above a stable on East 77th Street. The stable noise below inspired the nickname Crib of Bethelem and soon the nascent parish was given the go-ahead to build their own church. They raised $14,000 and picked out a spot on East 76th Street but no sooner did they get the thing half built that they were forced to leave the “Crib” and have 1883’s Lent in the basement of the unfinished structure. It took off once they got up and running though and in 1886 La Congregation de Notre-Dame (founded by Marguerite Bourgeoys in Montreal 1653) came to set up a school. Everything looked good for this little parish on the Upper East Side when J.C. Marquis showed up with a curious object.
He dropped by on May 1st, 1892 and needed a place to stay, relic and all while on his way to Saint-Anne-De-Beaupre from Rome. He was convinced to show it to the parishioners at vespers that night but would be on his way come morning. Once people got word, though, larger and larger crowds started showing up. Finally when a young man who suffered from epileptic fits was cured everyone wanted a piece of the action. Our man Marquis would be detained until May 20th, almost three weeks after he meant to leave. But so impressed was he with the response that he vowed to bring a relic back and once he got to St-Anne he divided it and brought a chunk back to New York. The Pope, Leo XIII at the time, was digging all of this and let Marquis go to St. Anne’s shrine in Apt, France to get a relic specifically for St. Jean. Miracles were being reported well into the 20th century as this 1907 New York Times article shows:
By the 1910’s St. Jean was THE catholic church to attend on the Upper East Side and the small building was packed to capacity every Sunday. One day Thomas Fortune Ryan, a very wealthy man and regular attendee had to stand while Father Letellier asked his parishioners for prayers towards a new church. Ryan approached Letellier after the service, asked how much it would cost and agreed to bankroll the new St. Jean. It was finished in 1913 and indeed still stands at 184 East 76th Street.
A few more notable things have happened since 1913. In 1918 Charles George, after a failed attempt at stealing a car ran into the church and proceeded to have a gun fight with police. He surrendered when he ran out of ammunition:
And in 1970 a 63 year old woman was attacked by three teenagers and stabbed on the stairs.
St. Jean Baptiste is still a fully-operational church so next time you’re in Manhattan you may want to stop by and appreciate the mark Quebec has left on The Big Apple.