Our History


Catholics at Cornell University first organized in 1888 as the Cornell Catholic Union for the study of Catholic teachings. In the early 1900s it became the Newman Club; its first full-time priest, Father James Cronin, was assigned to the group in 1929.

In that same year, Protestants, Jews, and Catholics joined together to form Cornell United Religious Work, a pioneer structure in interfaith cooperation in higher education — a group which still flourishes today. In 1936 Father Donald Cleary began a legendary twenty-five year tenure as chaplain, eventually presiding over the largest Newman Club in the nation.

The social turmoil of the 1960s, the changes called for by the Second Vatican Council, the growth of the university, and the rapid increase in the number of Catholic students at Cornell all left their mark on the ministry. In 1970 the Newman Club became the Cornell Catholic Community, reflecting the growth of the group into a full-fledged parish.

The end of the Second Vatican Council in 1965 marked the beginning of a turbulent period for the Community. A rapid succession of chaplains struggled to maintain ministerial strength and stability while implementing the changes called for by the Council.

In 1983 the ministry began a new era of stability and growth when Father Michael Mahler arrived as chaplain. Soon thereafter the Community started a new outreach to Catholic alumni. Their continuing generosity, together with that of other special friends and the parents of students, provides the ministry with ongoing financial stability.

Now under the direction of Father Carsten P. Martensen S.J., the Cornell Catholic Community continues to grow and joyfully spread the Good News of the Gospel on Cornell's Campus.