7. “Take Care of the Immigrant Girls”

Fr. John J. Riordan


Born in New York of Irish parents who emigrated from Cork, Fr. John J. Riordan was appointed the first Castle Garden chaplain in 1883. While Fr. Riordan founded the Mission of Our Lady of the Rosary for the Protection of Irish Immigrant Girls on October 1, 1883, the Mission did not officially begin to function until January, 1884. Fr. Riordan’s goals for the Mission were three: to establish a Catholic Bureau at Castle Garden providing information and counseling to arriving immigrants, to open a Catholic boarding house offering temporary housing for immigrants while they waited to meet family or friend, or transit to a final destination or for secure employment, and to provide a chapel for spiritual support to the immigtants. From the beginning, the Mission welcomed all immigrant women. Father Riordan visited Ireland in 1885 to meet clergy and laity to let them know about the services of the Mission and to call on their support. When he returned, Father Riordan continued to serve at the Mission until his untimely death, at age thirty-six, on December 15, 1887. His last words were said to have been, “Take care of the immigrant girls.”

Fr. Michael Callaghan


When the Mission opened, Father Riordan placed immigrant girls in local boarding houses until May 1, 1884 when he rented part of a house at Broadway, opened a Home for Immigrant girls, and engaged Mrs. Boyle to look after the 160 young immigrant women who could be accommodated there. On December 4, 1886, Fr. Riordan purchased 7 State Street for the Mission Home from Isabella Wallace for $70,000. Cavan-born Fr. Michael Callaghan, who served as the third Mission director from 1889 until 1896, retired the 7 State Street mortgage. The Home had a reception room, a dining room, a dormitory and a chapel.

Cardinal John McCloskey


The Archdiocese of New York recognized worth of the Mission of Our Lady of the Rosary for the Protection of Irish Immigrant Girls and took steps to provide institutional support in 1886 when Cardinal McCloskey divided St. Peter’s Parish and directed that the 1500 Catholics living in Lower Manhattan and on the Harbor Islands be constituted as the Parish of Our Lady of the Rosary; however, the change in commercial zoning meant that the Manhattan residents of the parish were largely gone by the end of the 1920s. The Church became the National Shrine Church of Mother Elizabeth Seton in 1964. The old residence at 8 State Street was demolished and the Shrine of St. Elizabeth Seton, the first American-born saint, was opened in the 1966. Mother Seton was cannonized in 1975.

Fr. Michael J. Henry


Fr. Michael Henry, the Mission Director until 1908, on the Mission’s 25th year, stands fifth from the last in the front row. During their first twenty-five years, the Mission served over 100,000 of the some 307,823 Irish girls who arrived in the Port of New York. They found jobs for 12,000.

Fr. John J. Riordan’s words
inspired F. J. Leitch’s poem:

“Take Care of the Immigrant Girls”
No hero’s last breath upon victory’s field
As his soul met the specter’s demand.
No soldier when forced to the victor to yield
E’er uttered a sentence more grand.
Than Erin’s dear son, as in Liberty’s name.
He thought of old Ireland’s bright pearls,
No dying request more enduring to fame
Than “Take care of the immigrant girls.”
Thy name and thy tomb we shall ever enshrine,
With hallowed affections impress:
No child of old Erin shall ever decline
To honor thy holy recess.
Where the patriot’s dust of Melchisedech’s pride
Appeals for the purest of pearls,
His last words to earth on the day that he died,
“Take care of the immigrant’s girl.”