Timeline of American Catholic History

An Immigrant Church, 1800–1900

Arguably the century of most dramatic change in American Catholicism, the 1800s saw the Church develop from an infant institution claiming the loyalties of a tiny minority of citizens culturally and ethnically like their Protestant countrymen, to a major factor in American life, a vast network of dioceses, schools, and hospitals serving the largest single religious community in the United States, a majority of whom were first- and second-generation immigrants. The tidal wave of Catholic immigration began with the Irish in the 1840s, but by 1900 the European emigration had shifted decisively south and east as Poles, Slovaks, and Italians crowded through the nation's ports of entry. Successsive councils held at Baltimore exhorted parishes to a monumental program of school-building, and religious orders entered the field of higher education with the founding of colleges from west coast to east: Santa Clara, Notre Dame, and Fordham, to name a few. By the end of the century, Catholic lay people were active in every facet of American society: intellectual, artistic, economic, and perhaps most noticeably, political.

1800 An Immigrant Church

1808 Dioceses of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Bardstown created

1815 Trusteeism controversy begins

1818 St. Phillipine Duchesne and Sacred Heart Sisters arrive in New Orleans

1824 John McLoughlin settles in Oregon Country

1834 Charlestown convent burned

1836 Roger Taney appointed Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court

1840 St. Theodore Guerin and Sisters of Providence arrive in Indiana

1844 Fr. Edward Sorin and Holy Cross fathers found University of Notre Dame

1846 Fr. Boniface Wimmer founds first Benedictine monastery in the US, St. Vincent Abbey


1851 Jesuits found Santa Clara University

1852 St. John Neumann becomes bishop of Philadelphia

1853 Fr. Frederic Baraga becomes bishop of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan

1858 Fr. Isaac Hecker founds Paulist Fathers

1866 Orestes Brownson publishes The American Republic

1867 Bl. Francis Xavier Seelos dies in New Orleans

1868 Fr. Pierre de Smet brokers a peace with Sioux in Dakota Territory

1879 James Shields elected senator from Missouri

1880 William Grace elected first Catholic mayor of New York City

1882 Fr. Michael McGivney founds Knights of Columbus

1885 Eliza Allen Starr awarded Laetare Medal

1887 Cardinal James Gibbons support Knights of Labor at Vatican

1889 St. Frances Cabrini arrives in U.S.

1891 St. Katharine Drexel founds Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament