A trip up the Hudson River is a voyage into Catholic America's history. The river has been blessed by the presence of many holy men and women who have sailed into its harbors and labored upon its shores. Some of them are recognized by the Church while the holiness of millions of others is known only by God.

The river's original European name was the St. Anthony River. A century before Hudson sailed up America's river, the Catholic navigators Giovanni da Verrazano (1485-1528) and Estêvão Gomes (1483-1538) piloted their ships along its shores and placed it under the patronage of St. Anthony of Padua. More likely than not, Verrazano and Gomez brought priests with them, so Mass was offered in New York City long before Europeans actually settled there.

In 1655, Jesuit Father Simon Le Moyne sailed down the river to Nieuw Amsterdam to minister to French Catholic sailors. In 1684, when the Duke of York claimed New York as an English colony, the City's Catholic governor, Thomas Dongan, enacted the first law in the colony establishing religious liberty. It is believed that the first non-clandestine Mass said on Manhattan was on October 30, 1683 in a chapel Dongan opened about where the U.S. Custom House now stands (i.e., One Bowling Green) which is very close to where Mother Ann Seton set up shop to assist new immigrants.

St. Isaac Jogues (1607–1646), the Jesuit Martyr and Apostle to the Iroquois and Huron, was the first recorded Catholic priest to celebrate Mass in Manhattan. He gave up an academic career to order to evangelize the Huron Indians of the Hudson River and further afield. He traveled to them by boat up the Hudson River. After being captured and tortured, St. Jogues escaped his captors and returned to France minus several fingers which the Iroquois had cut, chewed or burnt off. At the time, a priest with mutilated hands couldn't celebrate Mass but Pope Urban VIII gave the Jesuit special permission to do so saying, "It would be shameful that a martyr of Christ not be allowed to drink the Blood of Christ." As soon as he was rested and healed, St. Jogues requested to return to the Hurons to continue ministering to them so once again he sailed up the Hudson—but this time to his martyrdom. Seven other Jesuit missionaries from Sainte-Marie ministered among the Hurons and were martyred. Their blood was the first to bless the Hudson.

New York City dominates Hudson River history as it is the first stop for European immigrants. In 1830, Bishop John Dubois (1764-1842), the City's third bishop, estimated that there were 35,000 Catholics in New York City and 150,000 throughout the rest of the state and in northern New Jersey, mostly made up of Irish immigrants.

St. Peter's on Barclay Street was the first Catholic Church in New York City. John de Crèvecoeur, the French consul, secured an act of incorporation on June 10, 1785 for the “Trustees of the Roman Catholic Church of the City of New York”. Thomas Stoughton, the Spanish consul, helped purchased the land from nearby Trinity Church on October 5, 1785.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, (1774–1821), St. John Neumann (1811–1860), St. Frances Xavier Cabrini (1850–1917) and Mother Mary Angeline Teresa McCrory (1893-1984) all stood at the piers on the Hudson waiting for immigrants, strangers in a strange land. Mother Seton founded the Sisters of Charity and the City's first private charitable organization.

Fr. Felix Varela (1788–1853) and Ven. Pierre Toussaint (1766–1853) both came to New York City by boat from the Caribbean.

Born of a wealthy Cuban family, Fr. Felix Varela was an abolitionist, scholar, scientist and priest who gave up his wealth and position in order to serve the poorest of the poor among Irish immigrants of the Lower East Side.

Ven. Pierre Toussaint (1766–1853) was a freed Haitian slave who became the City's most popular hairdresser. He helped finance New York City's first cathedral, St. Patrick's Old Cathedral.

St. Veronica's in Greenwich Village, located at 149 Christopher Street, was built by and for longshoremen who worked at the piers along the Hudson. The parish was established in 1886. Though there aren't many longshoremen who regularly attended Mass there these days, their descendants helped to build up Greenwich Village as a cosmopolitan community.

At the very northern tip of Manhattan Island lies The Cloisters, which is essentially a Catholic museum. It majestically overlooks the Hudson atop Manhattans' second tallest peak and contains some of the finest sacred art treasures of European Christendom from the twelfth through fifteenth centuries.

Immediately across Spuyten Duyvil, (Dutch: "Devil's Whirlpool,") the treacherous waterway that separates Manhattan from the American mainland, is the city of Yonkers, and the home of St. Joseph's Seminary and College, also known as Dunwoodie, the major seminary of the Archdiocese of New York. St. Joseph's Seminary is considered to be one of the more prestigious and theologically orthodox Catholic seminaries in the United States.

A bit farther up on the Hudson, one comes across Our Lady of Cold Spring chapel. It was built in 1834 to serve the West Point Foundry workers on the other side of the river. Catholic cadets at West Point would row across the River every Sunday to attend Mass. When Bishop Dubois consecrated the Greek Revival chapel, it became the first Catholic church in the Hudson area and the first one beyond Manhattan. When the parish moved in 1906 to its current building a few blocks away, it changed its name to Our Lady of Loretto. The old chapel was decommissioned and is now used as an interfaith wedding chapel.

The Most Holy Trinity Chapel was built at West Point, across the Hudson for the Academy's campus was built on June 11, 1900. Currently, Catholics make up 40% of West Point's population.

Immediately north of West Point in the town of New Windsor, is the grave of Fr. Charles Uncles, American's first black priest. His ordination even attracted the attention of the New York Times reporter who wrote an article about him (Dec. 19, 1891). He ultimately graduated from St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore but the prospect of a black seminarian so concerned the rector that he decided to poll the white seminarians. Unsurprisingly, they unanimously voted to admit Uncles.

In 1893, Fr. Uncles, along with five other priests, founded the Society of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart. Their mission of the Hudson Valley's Josephites was to work with the 4 million newly emancipated slaves in America. In 1925, the college was relocated to New Windsor in the Hudson Valley. At the age of 74, on July 20, 1933, Uncles died at the college and was buried there. Once the property was sold, his remains were removed to nearby New Windsor's Calvary Cemetery.

Though the Maryknollers have only a tiny numerical presence on the Hudson River, their presence is felt very far afield including India, Burma, China, Japan, Korea, Latin America and Africa. Their headquarters is located in Ossining, New York, a short distance from the banks of the Hudson River.

At the very end of the Hudson River, near where the Erie Canal begins, is a Jesuit cemetery and the National Shrine of the North American Martyrs. The Shrine was founded in 1885 and dedicated to the Jesuit missionaries who were martyred at the Mohawk Indian village of Ossernenon between 1642 and 1646. Though Auriesville is technically located on the south bank of the Mohawk River, that waterway empties into the Hudson River and is therefore a natural extension of it. The first recitation of the Rosary in what is now New York State took place here on September 29, 1642. Also, it was where Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, a Mohawk woman, was born in 1656. She converted to Christ and was baptized in nearby Fonda, New York.

From beginning to end, the magnificent Hudson  River is steeped in Catholic faith and history. Immigrants, converts, martyrs, saints, confessors and missionaries all touched the River in one way or another. The story of the Hudson River is the story of the Catholic Church in America. I often find myself standing on many spots along the River and recall its initial dedication to St. Anthony. I've dipped my hands into its waters which bless me because countless saints have already blessed its waters with their faith, their service—and, in some cases, with their blood.