Browse Exhibits (25 total)

Sisters of Charity: Nuns, Medicine, and the Civil War

Though the Civil War is one of the largest fields of research in American history, little has been devoted to the study of the role of Catholic women during the war. However, the research of Dr. William B. Kurtz has uncovered a vast number of nuns serving in hospitals in both the Union and Confederate armies. In this single document site, Kurtz here gives insight into a letter written by U.S. Surgeon General William A. Hammond to President Abraham Lincoln that espouses the virtues of having nuns serve in this capacity. Hammond referred to these nurses as "Sisters of Charity," though numerous orders would serve during the war. Kurtz argues that the work of these nuns was crucial in eliminating at least some of the anti-Catholic bias that existed in the United States in the 19th century.

 

See "Letter from William A. Hammond to Abraham Lincoln" to begin

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The Catholic Church, Bishops, and Race in the Mid-20th Century

While battles were waged against racist institutions in America in the decades prior, it was the 1940s-1960s that set the tone for the momentous changes in the history of African Americans. Often termed the “Second American Revolution,” the Civil Rights Movement of those decades sought the end of segregation across a wide swath of American society, including schools and other public organizations. The Catholic Church in the United States saw the struggle for equality within its own walls, and many church leaders were determined to not only free their institutions from segregation, but to work for its demise in the general population as well. While recognition of the Church’s work in civil rights has paled in comparison to the luminaries of the movement, several individuals and organizations made a mark in the movement nonetheless, despite facing resistance at times from within their own parishes and institutions.

See "Background" to begin

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The Catholic Church, the Congress of Industrial Organizations, and Labor in the United States, 1930-1950

While conditions for workers had been a concern through United States history, advocacy for the working class became particularly prominent by the 1930s, as the rise of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) in 1935 attests.  While the Catholic Church had officially supported organized labor for decades, that support intensified in the 1930s. Pope Leo XIII had expressed support for organized labor in the late nineteenth century, and Pope Pius XI reiterated that commitment with the issuance of the encyclical Quadragesimo Anno in 1931. The Vatican asserted the right for workers to unionize and to earn a “just wage.”

Many Church leaders in the U.S. would enthusiastically embrace Pius XI's statement and begin to ally with unions across the country. The creation of the CIO would be of particular importance, as many in the Church would support, and in some cases join, the organization in order to bring what many leaders termed “social justice” to the working class. Much of the work of the Church in the area of labor would be conducted through the National Catholic Welfare Conference’s Social Action Department (SAD), which would become a fervent supporter of workers' rights during the Great Depression. For the next several decades, the Church would play a critical role in the labor movement, spreading its Christian ideal of “economic democracy” to the working class, as the resources on this site reveal. 

See "Background" to begin

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The Catholic People in American History

Introduction: A Unique American Catholic Identity

Catholicism in America has its own unique history. In order to understand that history, it is necessary to take a look at the people who identified as Catholic and how that identification shaped their experience in America.

How did Catholicism come to the Americas? How did it sustain its membership over time? What was the relationship between the pope and American Catholics, or American Catholics and non-Catholic Americans? How did the American Catholic people respond to the clergy? These questions are critical to understanding the way Catholic people created a distinctively Catholic-American identity and experience.

 

See "Background" to begin

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Immigration

Since the beginnings of our nation, immigration and religion have served as two of the most powerful factors in the shaping of American identity. Religious freedom was enshrined as a national ideal in our earliest documents; James Madison, the principle author of the Constitution, stated that "religion and Government will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together." 1 This guiding principle has drawn millions of immigrants to the United States from all over the world, making America the religiously diverse nation it is today. This freedom of religion and openness to immigrants, however, has at times been obscured by racist and anti-religious prejudice. This website examines the role of the American Catholic Church in the debates over immigration policies that restricted entry into the U.S. based on ethnic background. Throughout the twentieth century, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and its forerunner, the National Catholic Welfare Conference, have fought for fairer laws and greater justice for immigrants. The documents presented in this site explore the changing perceptions on immigration in the twentieth century, as well as the Church's involvement in shaping immigration policy.

See "Background" to begin.

1 Robert S. Alley, ed., James Madison on Religious Liberty (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books), 83.