There is a popular saying in politics sometimes attributed to Ronald Reagan ‘When you’re explaining,…
Father Grogan was born on June 14th, 1873, in Brocca, Screggan County in Offaly. His parents were Joseph Grogan and Mary Molloy. He received his early education at Mucklagh National School, Saint Columbus School, Tullamore and Saint Finian’s College Navan. At the solicitation of his uncle, the Reverend, Anthony J. Molloy of the New York Archdiocese, came to the United States and was admitted to Saint Joseph Seminary then located in Troy, New York. He continued his studies there and at the new St. John’s Seminary in Dunwoody, where he was ordained on May 27th, 1899. He celebrated his first mass at Saint Peter’s church in Yonkers, NY, where his uncle was the Past
His first assignment was to Rosendale, NY for one year. He was transferred to the Mission of Our Lady of the Rosary, where he remained uninterruptedly serving as assistant until 1922.
Fr Anthony Grogan
The Church of Our Lady of the Rosary began as a shelter for young, Irish female immigrants. It was due to the efforts of Charlotte Grace O’Brien, an Irish Protestant and daughter of William Smith O’Brien, who was an Irish Nationalist member of Parliament (MP) and a leader of the Young Ireland movement. A bad harvest in Ireland in 1879, combined with Irish political turmoil, caused many Irish people to emigrate to America. In articles and letters to newspapers and reviews, Charlotte O’Brien exposed the awful conditions that existed in the Queenstown (Cobh) lodging houses, on board the emigrant ships and in the dock slums of New York City, where the Irish had to stay upon landing.
She contacted Minnesota Archbishop, John Ireland, and Cardinal John McCluskey, Archbishop of New
Mission girls on the steps ask for assistance. In 1885, the James Watson House at Seven State Street was purchased from Isabella Wallace for the Mission of Our Lady of the Rosary for the protection of Irish Immigrant girls to serve as a way station for young immigrant women.
In 1887, Archbishop Corrigan made the mission a parish. Surviving ledgers at the church list more than 60,000 names of young women who were sheltered in the mission over the next half century. At this time, Castle Island was the point of entry for all emigrants to New York.
Around 1890, it became apparent that Castle Garden was ill-equipped and unprepared to handle the mass influx, leading the federal government to construct a new immigration station on Ellis Island.
This little parish on the lower end of Manhattan including the islands in the harbor and the steam ship piers were the scene of Father Grogan’s labors for more than a generation. Father Grogan was blessed with a strong physique and magnetic personality.
His name and reputation spread across the city and country by countless immigrants who arrived daily carrying stories of the kind Irish priest.
The saying at the time amongst the arriving immigrants was to, “first look for the Statue of Liberty, then look for Father Grogan.” He was not only popular among the immigrants but also the customs, immigration, and steamship officials. When speaking about Father Grogan, a former Commissioner of Immigration, Mr. Robert Tod, stated “The record of his splendid work at Ellis Island is a testimonial of elevated ideals, untiring service to the immigrant and to the government of the United States. Since I assumed office at Ellis Island, it has been my good fortune and immense pleasure to meet and know Father Grogan, personally, and to realize that one facet of the immigration problem that of the Irish immigrant could never cause me any time or thought so splendidly was it handled under his sympathetic supervision.”
When the United States entered World War I, Father Grogan was amongst the first of the priests to enlist, he was assigned as Chaplain at the receiving station at Ellis Island where he worked untiringly until the close of the war.
He was the first priest to celebrate mass on Ellis Island. This memorable event took place on Sunday, March 10th, 1918, in the presence of several hundred soldiers, sailors and army nurses about to set sail for Europe.
Fr Grogan in his military uniform.
On September 7th, 1919, the New York Herald newspaper wrote a half page article about Father Grogan and his work for the sick and wounded. The title of this piece was “Father Grogan, Purveyor of Cheer to Sick and Wounded Soldiers.” His photograph also appeared in the newspaper showing him wearing his army uniform.
Father Grogan stated in the article, “It was little enough I could do for those gallant boys who came back. God bless them and as for the immigrants there was nothing at all to do for them. He said, “The government took the best of care of these poor people and if someone was to slip them an extra smile, or a cigarette, or a bit of candy now and then, it was just in the day’s work. “
Throughout Father Grogan’s Priesthood no doubt he performed many weddings, but the wedding he celebrated on April 22nd, 1912, was special. On April 12th, 1912, the Titanic went down in the North Atlantic Ocean. An hour after the Titanic disappeared under the water a ship nearby called The Carpathia rescued 705 people from the lifeboats. The ship returned to New York City on April 18th.
Many of the survivors were taken to Saint Vincent’s hospital, including one young lady named Sarah Rott. Her fiancé had been living in New York for some time. The charity workers at the hospital consulted Father Grogan regarding the couple’s wish to get married right away and he agreed to perform the ceremony. The news of the wedding spread quickly through the hospital and nurses, doctors, charity workers, patients and survivors begged to be allowed to witness the ceremony. Some were wheeled to the door of the hall in invalid chairs, while others who could not get into the crowded hall, watched from the stairway. As soon as Father Grogan announced they were husband and wife, there was a rush of people to congratulate them.
It was a moment for all to celebrate for the first time since that terrible night the Titanic went down.
Burial place of Fr Grogan at Mucklagh, Tullamore
While on a trip home to Ireland in 1930, to complete arrangements in connection with visitors from the United States to Dublin for the Eucharist Congress of 1932, Father Grogan took ill and passed away a short time later.
Father Grogan had visited Europe three times before the trip in which he died. In 1924, he had an audience with the Pope before returning to America by way of Ireland and in 1927 and 1929, he went back for a short time to his old home in Screggan, where at the time he had three married sisters and a brother. He was buried in Mucklagh graveyard where many of the Grogan and Molloy family members are laid to rest. The newspapers in Ireland and America spread the sad news. No doubt thousands of immigrants mourned his loss.
One week after his death, a solemn mass of requiem was sung at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. As mentioned earlier, his uncle, Father Anthony Molloy was also a priest in New York. He passed away in 1911. His sister, Rose Grogan, was a nun with the sisters of charity in New York. She passed away in 1947.
If you’re in the Mucklagh area, stop off and visit the grave of the man who touched so many lives as they arrived in the new world.
Special thanks to friends at home who helped with pictures and research, namely Kevin Corrigan, Micheal Scully, Kevin, Jack, and Ella Guing.
– Danny Leavy
Our thanks to Danny Leavy for this fine blog. If you have an article to contribute contact us, [email protected]
Blog ed. writes: Danny Leavy is a new board member of the American Irish Historical Society and we wish him well in the current refurbishment programme. The charity had run into financial problems and is in course of reconstruction. We recall a visit to the fine mansion at 999 Fifith Avenue in 2000. From its website below it sounds like what we in Offaly History hope we are doing in Tullamore, Ireland. We hope AIHS will again be a proud beacon of Irish heritage at 991 Fifth Avenue. Some of its old Transactions are in Offaly History Centre, Tullamore. Below from the website and Google away for more about AIHS (ed.)
The American Irish Historical Society was founded in Boston in 1897 to encourage and promote historical research and to inform the world of the story of the Irish in America. In contrast to many other organizations at the time, it was non-partisan and non-sectarian from its inception. The AIHS has developed into a focal point of the contemporary transatlantic Irish experience. It is a scholarly and cultural organization dedicated to making better known the Irish chapter in American history. Numerous Irish scholars, artists and writers associated with the Society have gone on to promote Irish Studies in American Universities, including Seamus Heaney, John Montague, Brian O’Doherty, and Dorothy Walker. The Society’s archives, which have been built up over 120 years, contains one of the most complete collections of Irish and Irish-American history and literature in the United States. Its more than 15,000 volumes include Bishop Beddel’s Bible written in the Irish language in 1685. Extensive archives include letters and papers from key historical figures such as Patrick Pearse, Charles Stewart Parnell, and Thomas Addis Emmet. The Society’s collections also encompass a wide range of sculpture, paintings and periodicals—as well as the taped recording of Brendan Behan that became the celebrated work “Confessions of an Irish Rebel.”