Browse Exhibits (28 total)

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 Journal of Sister Justina and the Santa Maria Institute

Two women played a crucial Catholic role in the city of Cincinnati from the late nineteenth into the early twentieth century.   Justina and Blandina Segale were Sisters of Charity who provided social services to impoverished Catholic immigrants throughout the Progressive Era in the Ohio city through the Santa Maria Institute, established for that purpose by the sisters in 1897.  This website illuminates their social work through documents and images, relying particularly on a journal kept by Sister Justina during the Santa Maria Institute years.     

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The Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart, 1890 - ca. 1920

Established in Baltimore in 1890, the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart are an order of Catholic nuns dedicated to educating “the poor, the afflicted and the neglected” in Catholic teachings and practice. Originally ministering specifically to African Americans, by 1896 the scope of their mission had expanded to people of all races. They soon founded schools for deaf children and provided catechism classes to Italian immigrants. After 1902 they founded houses to do mission work in the recently acquired American territories of Puerto Rico and Guam. The Mission Helpers' work placed them at the intersections of race, religion, gender, immigration, childcare, and education in turn-of-the-century America. This site explores and provides context for the first generation of Mission Helpers, roughly between the years 1890 and 1920, by tracing the activities of their earliest leaders, the Mothers Joseph Hartwell and Demetrias Cunningham, for the first time bringing to light examples of their correspondences, photographs, and official documentation for the general public.

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.

To Agreeably Disagree: Two Catholic Voices in Modern American Public Life

It would appear that we will simply have to agree to disagree agreeably about your report on the Synod. 

             George Higgins to Richard Neuhaus, April 26, 1986


Monsignor George Higgins and Father Richard Neuhaus, two Catholic priests and prominent leaders in American life in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, disagreed on many matters.  Higgins’ above comment came in the midst of their conflict over the teaching authority held by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.  Neuhaus believed the 1985 Synod held in Rome to evaluate Vatican II reforms suggested a curtailment of that authority, while Higgins disagreed with him that it made any suggestion of that.  The two men also disagreed on the meanings of a variety of Catholic teachings related to the economy, conservative politics, and labor unions.  They never stopped corresponding when both were alive, however, and their dialogue offers a window into how two different Catholic public figures viewed the same world during their time.          

Religion and public life in the United States have always been entangled, as much as some might want to see religion as an exclusively private matter ideally practiced outside of public life, or if in public, in ways that rest outside of the purview of political life.  Nonetheless, religious belief often informs individuals’ public positions on a variety of matters.  This means that one’s religious views can clash with public and political policies and happenings.  This site draws correspondence and writings from two collections, the newly-acquired papers of Father Richard John Neuhaus and the papers of Monsignor George Gilmary Higgins to illuminate the ways these two Catholic priests engaged with public and political life as well as with each other in the late-twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. 


Tornado Machines and Trans-Pacific Relations: The Life and Work of Dr. C.C. Chang

How does a village kid, who became a student at a warlord-funded university, a student refugee of the Japanese invasion of China and an aeronautical engineer during the Second World War, grow up to be a world-class scientist at the Catholic University of America in the 1960s and 70s?

The life and work of Dr. C.C. Chang invite an examination of an extraordinary member of the Catholic University of America community and a trans-Pacific world shaped by Chinese American scholars. This exhibit recaptures his scientific innovations, unique immigration experience, personal negotiation of political allegiance, and the role he played in the history of Sino-American relations. Some of his story might be remote and unfamiliar, but you may find many of the topics familiar in today’s conversations. In an age when scholars are once again caught between the looming conflict between China and the United States, Dr. Chang’s experience shows the value and fragility of an academic Chinese-Americanness in history. 

This exhibit is divided into five parts. The first and second parts focus on  Dr. Chang’s early years in the war-torn China of the 1920s and 1930s, where he attended two prestigious Chinese universities and encountered a trans-Pacific academic community. The third part focuses on the honeymoon between the Chinese and American governments during the Second World War, which brought Dr. Chang to the United States to further his study in aeronautical engineering at the California Institute of Technology. We  then look at the undoing of a trans-Pacific academic network during the early stage of the Cold War, when the Cummunist takeover in 1949 led to a gradual but comprehensive shutdown of academic exchanges between the two countries and cast Dr. Chang and his Chinese colleagues asunder. 

The next two sections deal with Dr. Chang’s life and work as a Chinese American scientist. He came to the Catholic University of America in 1963 and established the Department of Space Science and Applied Physics after a successful academic career at three top American universities. At Catholic, his team would partner with the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) in various projects, including the design of the IMP(Interplanetary Monitoring Platform) and Nimbus Satellites. His scholarly interest shifted to the field of meteorology in the late 1960s, which gave rise to his best remembered achievement at Catholic: the establishment of a “tornado machine” on campus. Five years before Dr. Chang’s retirement from Catholic, Nixon’s 1972 visit to China helped him to reconnect with his country of birth. He visited China in 1972 and shared his observation about the country’s development under the Communist regime. His work with Chinese scientists was renewed shortly afterwards and continued into the final years of his long and fruitful life.

This exhibit offers documents and images  related to several historical turning points, such as the Japanese invasion of China, the abrupt fragmentation of a trans-Pacific academic community after 1949, the Cultural Revolution in China from 1966 to 1976, and the normalization of Sino-US relations after 1972. These events played vital roles in Dr. Chang’s experience in the two countries. His story reflects the rise and decline of a transpacific academic community that has long served as a thermometer of the relationship between China and the United States. Through his life and work, we will walk you through an evocative experience about the role of scholars in the 20th Century American history of immigration and diplomacy.

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