Timeline of American Catholic History

The Church Comes of Age, 1900–2000

The Church in the United States reached maturity in the twentieth century. In the century's first decade, the Vatican ended the nation's status as a missionary territory. Immigration slowed in the 1920s and what had been a predominantly "foreign" religion was, for better and worse, increasingly assimilated into American culture. Second and third generation immigrants advanced up the economic ladder, a climb expedited by the GI Bill's educational funding after World War II. By 1960, the country was ready for a Catholic president. Yet another sign of maturity was the capacity for self-criticism, and observers inside and outside the Church found flaws enough in Catholicism's liturgy, culture, and intellectual life. The post-Vatican II period was by most accounts a time of crisis. Laity, more highly educated and culturally influential than ever before, assumed more active roles in the Church's affairs, but statistics on Catholic school enrollment, divorce, and priesthood and consecrated religious life suggested weakness. Whether the final decades of the twentieth century represented the initial stages of a long decline or the tumultuous beginnings of an exciting renewal will be determined by the history of a new century, yet to be made.

1900 The Church Comes of Age

1904 Catholic Education Association founded

1906 Msgr. John A. Ryan publishes A Living Wage

1908 US removed from jurisdiction of Propaganda Fide (ends mission status)


1912 Our Sunday Visitor begins publication

1917 Fr. Edward Flanagan founds Boys Town

1918 Knute Rockne becomes head coach of Notre Dame football team

1919 National Catholic Welfare Council formed


1921 Ven. Nelson Baker begins construction of Our Lady of Victory Shrine

1923 Mae Nolan elected as first Catholic US Congresswoman

1923 St. Augustine Seminary founded

1924 Ven. Solanus Casey assigned to St. Bonaventure Monastery, Detroit

1926 Fr. Virgil Michel founds liturgy journal Orate Fratres

1927 Fr. Daniel Lord assists production of feature film King of Kings

1928 Al Smith wins Democratic nomination for president, loses general election


1933 Catholic bishops establish movie monitor, Legion of Decency

1933 Dorothy Day publishes Catholic Worker

1934 Fr. John LaFarge forms Catholic Interracial Council

1937 Association of Catholic Trade Unionists founded

1939 Card. Francis Spellman named archbishop of New York


1944 GI Bill passes, enabling college education for working-class Catholics

1946 Clare Booth Luce converts to Catholicism

1948 Thomas Merton publishes Seven Storey Mountain


1952 Abp. Fulton Sheen's Life is Worth Living debuts on ABC

1955 Msgr. John Tracy Ellis publishes "Catholics and the Intellectual Life"

1956 Thomas Dooley publishes Deliver Us From Evil


1960 John F. Kennedy elected president of the US

1960 FDA approves the Pill, invented by Dr. John Rock

1962 Abp. Joseph Rummel integrates New Orleans Catholic schools

1962 Second Vatican Council begins

1963 John McCormack becomes first Catholic Speaker of the US House

1967 Catholic educators issue Land o' Lakes Statement

1968 Pope Paul VI issues Humanae Vitae, American theologians protest

1968 César Chávez leads United Farm Workers strike

1968 "Catonsville Nine" burn draft records


1972 Phyllis Schlafly begins campaign against Equal Rights Amendment

1975 St. Elizabeth Ann Seton canonized (first native-born US citizen)

1976 Paul Horgan wins Pulitzer Prize for Lamy of Santa Fe


1981 Fr. Robert Drinan, SJ, finishes term in Congress

1981 Eternal Word Television Network begins transmitting

1984 US government establishes diplomatic relations with Holy See

1984 Governor Mario Cuomo delivers Notre Dame address

1987 Fr. Stanley Jaki wins Templeton Prize


1990 Fr. Richard John Neuhaus converts to Catholicism

1996 Cardinal Joseph Bernardin dies