St Paul's Parish began its existence in 1834 embracing the whole upper area of old New York from New Rochelle to downtown Manhattan. At that time Harlem was little more than a wilderness. In 1832, some business people had obtained permission from the city to lay a double track for horse-drawn cars from City Hall to the Harlem River along Fourth Avenue (Fourth Ave. was renamed Park Avenue). It was hoped that the street car line the first on the island- would attract Harlem commuters and shoppers who ordinarily used the riverboats to get downtown and back. For many years, St. Patrick's Old Cathedral (downtown) was the only church on Manhattan Island. It was necessary for some of the priests attached to it to attend to all the Catholics scattered throughout the forest-like parts of Manhattan's northern section. They said Mass in private houses and in barns. Harlem, from Dutch times, had been a little hamlet by itself. It had gradually become a center whose increasing population included numerous Catholics. The first priest to minister regularly to the Catholics of this area was Rev. James Walsh. In 1834, Bishop DuBois decided to establish a church with a resident priest who could from that center minister to Catholics in many directions. Rev. Michael Curran, who had been a zealous worker in the mountains of Pennsylvania, was chosen as the first pastor of St. Paul’s next the site for St. Paul's Church was selected and purchased, and the cornerstone was laid on June 29th 1835. The Church, through the zeal of its pastor and the generosity of its people, was soon completed mid-century and the construction costs defrayed.
By East Harlem had a population of 1500. Fr. Curran was succeeded at St. Paul's by Father John Welsh who remained there until 1853. The next pastor was Father Brophy who had struggled for years with the rural missions. It was during this time-frame that Father Maguire erected a Parish School in 1872 and asked the Sisters of Charity to take charge of it. Since 1850 two Sisters had taught catechism at St. Paul's coming during the early years from the mother house at McGowan Pass. For many years, Saint Paul's had stood as the only Catholic church between the site of the present cathedral and New Rochelle.
By the latest thirties, large numbers of Afro-Americans people were coming to live in East Harlem but even larger numbers of Spanish-speaking people, mostly Puerto Rican, were coming, too. In 1920 about 7000 people lived in the city, most of them in a part of East Harlem.During its long and beautiful story, Saint Paul's was staffed by diocesan priest. In 1998, Card. John O'Connor, for the first time in the story of the parish trusted the pastoral care of Saint Paul's to a religious order. On February 2nd 1998 two priests of the Institute of the Incarnate Word arrived at Saint Paul's. But the best story of St. Paul’s is written only in the hearts and minds of those who have participated in this wonderful parish and the whole story is in the heart of God where it continues to be and to become good news.
The Institute of the Incarnate Word is a religious Institute with diocesan approbation founded by Rev. Carlos Buela in Argentina. It was started on March 25th, 1984, with a small number of priests and seminarians. The goal of the Institute is following Jesus Christ, and him crucified, through the profession of the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, taking the Blessed Virgin Mary for our protectress and guide. We consecrate ourselves to her according to the method laid down by Saint Louis de Montfort.
The formation of the Institute was approved by Bishop Leon Kruk, the Bishop of San Rafael (Argentina), who was the Bishop at the time. He also entrusted the initiation and care of the diocesan seminary of San Rafael for several years. Recognizing the Institute's rapid expansion throughout the world and its providential growth, the Holy See, in a letter to the Superior General dated July 8th, 1995 declared that "the Institute of the Incarnate Word is an Religious Institute with diocesan approbation."
Our specific goal, following the call of His Holiness John Paul II, is the evangelization of the culture. We seek to inculturate the Gospel in the various cultures so that they can be redeemed. In this way we seek "to sum up all things in Christ" (Eph 1:10). Since the Institute was born within the Church, it is nurtured by its bimillenary wisdom and therefore it uses the various methods utilized by the Church's best: the saints. Its pastoral work is principally in the form of the preaching of missions according to Saint Alphonsus Liguori, as well as the Spiritual Exercises according to Saint Ignatius of Loyola. The Institute assists local Bishops in staffing seminary faculties for the formation of clergy, and for the undertaking of parishes and schools.
Currently, the Institute has 200 priests (among them, 66 have received their Licentiate degree and 3 have received their Doctoral degree, and another 14 are about to obtain their Licentiate or Doctoral degrees), 140 seminarians, 100 minor seminarians, and more than 50 novices. Among the members, more than 160 have taken private perpetual vows.
The Institute has seminaries in San Rafael, Argentina, in Arequipa, Peru, and in Maryland, U.S. The Institute also provides priests for the formation of seminarians at seminaries in Brazil, Israel, Russia, the Ukraine, Egypt, Ecuador and Papua New Guinea. The Institute has been blessed with many vocations who enter our novitiates in Argentina, Peru, Italy, and in the United States. Some of the members of our Institute live contemplative life. There are contemplative monasteries of the I.V.E. in Argentina, Brazil, Peru and Israel.
On March 19, 1988, Fr. Buela founded the "Institute of the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matara," as the feminine branch of the Institute of the Incarnate Word. The clergy and religious sisters live the same founding charism and evangelical plan. The sisters work throughout the world in just about everywhere that the Institute of the Incarnate Word carries out its work.
The feminine branch has 400 members (more than 100 have taken private perpetual vows) and more than 50 novices who have come from various countries. The sisters also have a contemplative branch with monasteries in Argentina, Peru, Brazil, Italy, and in the United States.
The sisters work in hospitals, houses for the elderly, as well as houses for orphaned and disabled children. Many sisters carry out the important task of teaching in schools and in catechetical instruction.
The support for the work of the Institute is carried out by many lay people who share in the religious family in one form or another. Many of them have requested to belong to the Third Order of the I.V.E., living various lifestyles and apostolic commitments.