“The Church Would Look Foolish Without Them”: Countess Annie Leary, New York, New York

Leary, Annie, philanthropist, was born about 1860, in New York City, daughter of James and Catherine Leary, who were also born in New York. She is descended on her mother’s side from Holland—Dutch ancestors, while her paternal grandfather came from Ireland to the United States during his boyhood. In early childhood Miss Leary became deeply interested in the mission work of the Roman Catholic Church and decided to devote both her time and fortune to that noble cause. Purchasing four houses on Charlton Street, she furnished them artistically as well as comfortably, called the nuns and priests of that sordid neighborhood to her assistance and opened a mission that was destined to accomplish inestimable good among the myriads of needy and sadly neglected Italian children. She clothed them when they were naked, fed them when they were hungry and taught them the doctrines of the Catholic Church, until she became well known and blessed throughout the crowded tenements of that district. For many years Miss Leary was president and is now honorary president of the Society of the Children of Mary, attached to the Ladies of the Sacred Heart, and is also president of the latter’s sewing circle, or Tabernacle Society, where women congregate to make vestments, altar-cloths and other objects for the church. She was responsible for securing through Archbishop Corrigan the society’s affiliation with the nuns of the Via Nomentana in Rome. When the Fathers of the Blessed Sacrament decided to come to the United States Miss Leary carried out the necessary arrangements and brought them to the Church of St. Jean Baptiste in New York City, soon afterwards presenting a magnificent altar to that church. She also brought the Marie Reparatrici order of nuns from Rome to this country for the perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. The late Arthur Leary, notable in social as well as financial circles, was her brother, and to perpetuate his memory she built the beautiful Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament at Bellevue Hospital. Its windows imported from Munich, represent the saints of every country, its interior decorations are rich, but quiet, and before its shrine the outcast poor of every nation flock for comfort and devotion. Among the many other good works she has accomplished may be mentioned the founding, in connection with her mission, of the Christopher Columbus Holy Cross Society of America, which has already taken deep root and begun to spread. In 1901, in recognition of her life’s devotion to the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Leo XIII, through Archbishop Corrigan, created her a Papal countess. Besides her residence on Fifth Avenue, New York, the Countess has a beautiful summer home in Newport, where she entertains with great munificence. Her personality is sympathetic, kindly and tolerant. Her knowledge of life is broad and understanding, while beneath her quiet pose one is always conscious of the burning ardor of her faith which at every opportunity has blazed forth which at every opportunity has blazed forth in deeds that insure a lasting monument to her name.

The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol. 14 (New York: James T. White & Company, 1910), 556-559.

About Pat McNamara
  • Peter Dans

    I wondered where Charlton Street is. My copy of Naming New York says it is in what is now NOCA North of Canal Street bordering the Hudson. I was also struck by the number of orders of nuns she was associated with that seemed to have sprung up and disappeared.One question: Does the Bellevue chapel still exist?Thanks,Peter

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17953214762289672139 Pat McNamara

    I'm going to check this one out a little more closely, Peter.

  • Ann D.

    According to her New York Times obituary on April 27, 1919, Annie Leary was about 87 when she died. That would mean that she was born in 1832, NOT 1860. I am curious as I was always told that I was related to her and I am trying to verify that.
    Thanks,
    Ann

  • Deirdre in DC

    Sorry…the Church would look foolish without whom/what? Thanks in advance! — Deirdre

    • patmcnamara

      The laity, it’s a quote from Blessed John Henry Newman (1801-1890).


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