The French Connection

From early on, the Morningside Heights neighborhood has benefited from its strong links to France. Architecture, art, important institutions, and the ever-persistent numbers of expat French living here, French influences can be found in all corners of Morningside Heights.

French Architecture and Architects

The French architecture and architects in the neighborhood have included:

Ernest Flagg, an American architect in the Beaux-Arts style, who designed St. Luke’s after having recently returned from study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He won the contest over three other architects because he was related by marriage to Cornelius Vanderbilt II, chair of the hospital’s executive committee Flagg’s design was symmetrical and beautiful like buildings of the French Renaissance. Some architects had drawings in the cathedral style argued that it was too unlike the cathedral.

507 W 111 Street was inspired by George Pelham’s Blennerhasse, with two story limestone base, entry portico, red brick upper facade highlighted with French-inspired Beaux-Arts white terra-cotta features. Many Morningside Heights buildings combine Beaux-Arts ornamentation with American colonial brickwork. The neighborhood’s apartment buildings are designed in Italian Renaissance, French Renaissance, French Beaux-Arts, and Gothic, and American colonial styles.
McGiffert Hall (122nd & Claremont) is a student residence designed by Allen & Collens, who were also responsible for the architecture of Riverside Church and the Union Theological Seminary. They built the hall complement the style of both of those earlier buildings. McGiffert is a neo-Gothic style structure heavily influenced by the French Gothic style of Riverside Church rather than the English Gothic aesthetic of the Seminary.

Riverside Church‘s edifice was modeled after the Cathedral of Chartres, in Chartres, France, a 13th century gothic cathedral. John D. Rockefeller donated three paintings by Heinrich Hoffman to the church, one of which is a late 16th or 17th century French Renaissance tapestry.

Tightroper Philippe Petit

Living legend Philippe Petit, famous for his dangerously high tightrope walking, particularly between the Twin Tower in 1974, celebrated his book Why Know? How to Tie More Than 60 Ingenious, Useful, Beautiful, Lifesaving and Secure Knots! with a party at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in Morningside Heights. A lesser known fact is that Petit has held the title of artist in residence at the Church since 1980, when he took a trip across the 601-foot-long nave.
Petit’s newest book explains the knots he uses while up in the air, with detailed descriptions of how to tie and untie them. And rightly so – Petit won’t even take the first step on a wire unless he has checked the knots two or three times.

Maison Francaise at Columbia University

The Maison Française was established by Columbia president Nicholas Murray Butler in 1913 as a “center for the study of French civilization and French literature” — the first French cultural institute on an American campus. That inaugural year, Butler, a man of grand gesture and grander influence, brought the French philosopher Henri Bergson to Morningside Heights as a visiting professor. More recently, the Maison has hosted Shoah filmmaker Claude Lanzmann, writer and professor emerita Maryse Condé, economist Thomas Piketty, and philosopher Jacques Rancière.

Now, in 2013, the Maison Française is toasting its centenary with events throughout the year, starting with an exhibit in Buell Hall, on view through October 30. Curated by Maison Française director Shanny Peer, and jointly organized by the Maison Française and the Rare Book and Manuscript Division of Columbia Libraries, the exhibit includes documents, program materials, audio recordings, and photographs of distinguished thinkers, artists, and vedettes de cinéma.

Buell Hall, where la Maison Francaise is based, was formerly known as the Macy Villa of the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum (1821-1892). Built in 1885, it was the last building to be constructed for the asylum, and it was intended for wealthy male patients

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Maison Française at Columbia University

Buell Hall, 2nd floor
515 West 116th Street, MC 4990
New York, NY 10027

Church of Notre Dame French Mass

In October 2012 Timothy Cardinal Dolan announced the closing of the French National Church, St. Vincent de Paul, on January 6th 2013, after the celebration of the last Mass on the Feast of the Epiphany. It was celebrated to an overflowing crowd by Msgr. John Paddack, appointed transitional Pastor of St. Vincent de Paul. The Francophone community has been invited to open a new chapter in their 170 year history of religious tolerance and social justice by making their new home at the Church of Notre Dame. Notre Dame is an integral part of that long history of St. Vincent de Paul. In 1910, it was built as a Mission Church of St. Vincent de Paul and was staffed by the same French Fathers of Mercy. The present diverse congregation of Notre Dame and Columbia University Catholic Campus Ministry is proud to welcome their brothers and sisters in faith and history to Morningside Heights. Mass is celebrated in French each Sunday at 10 a.m. “Come and see”!


French Accommodations:
French Mass at 10 am on Sundays (Also have Spanish Mass at 1 pm after their Main Mass at 11:30 am)

Priests well versed in French:

Msgr. John Paddack -Pastor, Director of Francophone Community of NY; Special Advisor to Columbia University Chaplaincy Program (
Msgr. Paddack was appointed Administrator of Notre Dame by Archbishop Timothy Dolan, effective September 2011. He was was born in Manhattan, and after spending much of his childhood on the Jersey Shore, he attended Fordham University in the Bronx. He has subsequently studied at New York University, Université de Paris, Universidad de Guadulajara, St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, St. John’s University, and the City University of New York. He has a passion for traveling, and he has studied, worked and resided in Europe and the Caribbean.


Fr. Michael Holleran; Parish Priest (
Fr. Michael Holleran was raised on Long Island and attended high school in Manhattan. In the five years he was a Jesuit, he attended Fordham Rose Hill and received degrees in Philosophy and Classical Languages. Upon graduation, he entered the Carthusian Order and remained for 22 years: 12 years spent in Vermont, seven at the Grande Chartreuse in France, and three in England. Since 1994, he has worked as a parish priest in Manhattan and the Bronx. In 2009, he was received as a priest of the Archdiocese of New York by Cardinal Egan. Fr. Michael loves interfaith work, travel, and film.

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Church of Notre Dame

405 W 114th St
New York, NY 10025
(212) 866-1500


Church of Notre Dame History, Art, and Architecture

The Church of Notre Dame began in 1910 – not first as a church, but as a chapel; not first as a parish, but as a mission. It is hard to realize, looking at the busy, cosmopolitan area of Morningside Heights today, that not so many years ago, even within the memories of some still living, this area was undeveloped with open land and a sparse population. That, however, was the case as Notre Dame began life as a mission of the Church of St. Vincent de Paul (on West 24th Street). A French community of priests, the Fathers of Mercy, was entrusted with the care of this mission in the early years of this century as there were many French immigrants in this community.

In time the French community was integrated with other ethnic groups that found Notre Dame to be their home: Irish, German, Italian, African-American, Hispanic and Filipino. Notre Dame today is as ethnically diverse as the city and neighborhood in which it thrives. The present community of Notre Dame is enriched by its association with St. Luke’s Hospital where many of its parishioners work and where our pastoral care is so important. In 1988, a new stage in Notre Dame’s history began when its other great neighbor in Morningside Heights, Columbia University, was officially included in its pastoral mission. For the first time, the Pastor of Notre Dame was appointed the Catholic Chaplain at Columbia.

Art and Architecture

On March 25, 1910, plans were first adopted for a chapel to be built in Morningside Heights. The grotto chapel was dedicated by Archbishop Farley (later Cardinal Farley) on October 2, 1910. The chapel was completed in October 1911. Very soon, an expansion of the church became necessary – an expansion which would go on intermittently for nearly 50 years. The architects for the new church were Cross and Cross. They modeled the structure after the Church of Saint Louis in Paris, better known as L’Eglise des Invalides and as the final resting place of Napoleon the First.

The designer of Notre Dame’s altar was Edmond Becker, a French artist. Becker worked in white marble and gilt bronze, and created a matching altar, pulpit, and Communion rail. The focal point of the altar is an eight-foot-high Crucifix, with the Blessed Mother and Saint John flanking Jesus on either side of the Cross. Bas-reliefs around the altar illustrate the Annunciation, the Nativity and the Coronation of Mary. Bas-reliefs of the four evangelists adorn the pulpit. The heads of Christ, His Mother and His Beloved Disciple, were made of enamel and illuminated electrically.

When the New York City Landmarks Commission designated the Church and the Rectory of Notre Dame as landmarks in January, 1967, the buildings were described as follows:

“The Church of Notre Dame is an outstanding example of the French neo-classical style adapted to a relatively small ecclesiastical design…. The building achieves a sense of monumentality through the imposing front entrance portico. The interior of the church is also perceived as a grand space because of the ingenious use of colossal marble columns at the side aisles which spring into soaring arches, dwarfing its visitors. The Rectory, based on Italian Renaissance precedents, is skillfully related to the church and well designed to fit the unusually narrow site.”

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Church of Notre Dame

405 W 114th St
New York, NY 10025
(212) 866-1500