Saint Joseph's Yorkville Catholic Church
Saint Joseph’s Church Yorkville is a Catholic church on 87th Street near 6th Avenue in Manhattan. The church was started in the 1800s to serve the growing German population in the area on the Upper East Side known as Yorkville. Between 1820 and 1880 thousands of German and Irish immigrants arrived in New York City to escape civil unrest, persecution, and repeated failure of the potato crop, according to the Saint Joseph website. Many of the Germans settled in a section of New York east of the Bowery extending from Houston Street to 12th Street, what became known as Little Germany. At one church, Fathers tended to 10,000 German Catholics who came to Mass every Sunday. To respond to the needs, the priests built an orphan asylum uptown in Yorkville where the open fields, woodlands, and clean air provided a proper environment for orphan children. The parish church had its beginnings at the chapel of Saint Joseph’s Asylum, located on 89th Street and York Avenue.
After the Civil War, many German families sought more pleasant neighborhoods and many moved to Yorkville, which was located between 59th and 96 Streets on what is now the Upper East Side. The growing numbers overwhelmed the primary church at the time, Saint Lawrence O’Toole (now Saint Ignatius Loyola). As a result, a delegation went to the Jesuit Fathers at Saint Lawrence to request a German-speaking priest to start their own parish. This request was approved and in 1874, the first Saint Joseph’s Church was dedicated. For the next 20 years, the church was the center for German and Irish families in Yorkville. A school was opened in 1880 to accommodate 500 children.
Saint Joseph’s was known as the uptown church for German-speaking Catholics as many moved to the area to have their children attend the school. To accommodate the growing church members, plans were made for a new church on East 87th Street. In 1895, the present church was dedicated. The church was designed by William Schickel & Company and included a Müller & Abel organ. Schickel’s firm designed Saint Ignatius Loyola church on Park Avenue and 86th Street.
Eighty years ago, there were 12 German Catholic churches in Manhattan, 9 in Brooklyn, 5 in the Bronx, and one each in Queens and on Staten Island. Today, only St. Matthias in Ridgewood, Queens still offers a weekly Mass in German due to the declining German population. At Saint Joseph’s, one Mass is celebrated in German each month, according to a New York Times article. The article focused on the changing demographics of the area in light of German-born Pope Benedict’s visit to the church in 2008. It also mentions that after World War II, Mayor Robert F. Wagner and other mayors worshiped at Saint Joseph’s.