A visit to St. Patrick's should begins downtown at St. Patrick's Old Cathedral. Surrounded by an ancient churchyard and a stately wall, and circled by the narrow, bustling streets of Little Italy, the original cathedral has a dignified presence in the heart of old New York.

The cathedral was dedicated in 1815 and rebuilt in 1868 after having been devastated by fire. This city landmark became a parish church on May 25, 1879, the same day St. Patrick's Cathedral in midtown was dedicated by Cardinal John McCloskey. He not only celebrated the first Mass in the new Gothic cathedral, but was invested as the first American cardinal in the original one.

The congregation was once made up mostly of Irish and Italian immigrants. In recent years, Chinese and Dominican immigrants have become members.

Children also attend St. Patrick's Old Cathedral School across the street which was built in 1817. It's the oldest operating school in the archdiocese. It was originally founded as the first Catholic orphanage by Mother Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first native-born American saint. The first male American citizen to become a saint, John Neumann, was ordained in the old cathedral in 1836.

In 1970, the old cathedral was carefully restored along its original lines. The gold-leafed and ornately carved wood reredos behind the large marble altar was moved forward. In the center of the reredos, there is a painting of Christ's resurrection.

The tall, Gothic stained glass window have scenes depicting Jesus and Mary and also many other saints, including St. Patrick. Beneath the windows are statues honoring our Lord, our Lady and the saints. The 1870s Erben organ, one of only a handful of such great instruments in the city, remains unaltered, connecting today's visitors with the rich heritage of the past.

— Joseph Pronechen