From the immigrant waves of Irish, Poles, and Italians, to the later influx of Latin Americans, New York City has long been a vibrant Catholic stronghold. Such history makes it seem especially strange that there was a time when just being a Catholic priest in NYC was a criminal offense legally punishable by death.
This remarkable law, which has long since been abolished, was enforced only one time. And it was enforced on John Ury, a graduate of Britain’s Cambridge University who was working in NYC as a Latin instructor.
Ury had lived in the city for only a short time, and some of his neighbors began to suspect that he was, in reality, a Catholic priest. The fact that he specialized in teaching Latin likely added to this suspicion, as the ancient Roman language was heavily linked to the Catholic Church.
He had entered a climate of intolerance and paranoia. As Britain had been involved in a succession of wars with Spain, there were concerns that the Catholic nation would use fellow Catholics to infiltrate British colonies and attempt to create unrest.