Between 1846 and 1851 over 600,000 Famine Irish arrived on ships in the port of New York. Many settled in the neighborhoods along the East and Hudson rivers, creating the Irish waterfront. They found hard work on the docks as longshoremen. New York became the shipping center of the world. In the adjacent immigrant neighborhoods, the families of the longshoremen lived in tenements and fought to survive.
1954, the classic American film, “On the Waterfront,” starring Marlin Brando, vividly portrayed the violence along the Manhattan waterfront and the stranglehold of corrupt union officials and the mob. The waterfront priest played by Karl Malden was a Jesuit, Father, Fr. Pete Corridan, who taught at the Labor Institute at Xavier parish on W.16th Street near the Hudson River docks. Corridan and other young Jesuits, the labor priests, came of age during the 1930s and 40s when the Catholic Workers movement, led by Dorothy Day, championed the rights of workers to form unions and collectively bargain for higher wages and better working conditions. Inspired by Day and the Papal labor Encyclicals, the labor priests saw their ministry as dedicated to social justice for the longshoremen. Fr. Corridan battled not just the unions and mobsters but also with Archdiocese of New York that saw the Church’s mission as saving souls, leaving social justice to the labor unions and the politicians.
KURT C. SCHLICHTING is the E. Gerald Corrigan ’63 Chair in Humanities & Social Sciences Department and a Professor of Sociology at Fairfield University (CT). He is the author of Grand Central Terminal: Railroads, Architecture and Engineering in New York (Johns Hopkins U. Press, 2001), for which he received the 2002 Best Professional/Scholarly Book: Architecture & Urbanism Award from the Association of American Publishers. This book was the basis of “Grand Central,” an American Experience documentary on PBS, for which Dr. Schlichting served as an academic advisor and was an on-screen interviewee. His book, Grand Central’s Engineer: William J. Wilgus and the Planning of Modern Manhattan, was published by Johns Hopkins in the spring of 2012. Dr. Schlichting received his bachelor’s degree from Fairfield University and his master’s degree and a doctorate from New York University. We welcome Dr. Schlichting for this, his fourth talk, for the Museum of Newport Irish History.