Turning Toward a New Century: The Catholic Church's Encounter with American Culture at the Turn of the Century

The question of faith encountering culture is a perennial and universal one played out over two millennia in every corner of the globe where the church has been planted. Perhaps at no time in the history of the church in the United States did it seem so urgent than at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth. America was changing, spreading out over a continent, transforming itself from a rural, second class power into an urban industrial colossus and a premier player in world politics. The Catholic people of the United States were changing too, matching the nation's progress across the continent step by step, and growing from 8% of the nation's people to 17%. Much of that growth was through immigration: the Germans and the Irish, followed by French Canadians, Italians, Poles, Slovaks, Slovenes and others from southern or eastern Europe. But a new American born Catholic generation, the sons and daughters of Catholic immigrants, was growing to maturity then too, struggling to reconcile their European ancestries with their American birthright. For them the question, "What does it mean to be Catholic and American?," was especially pressing. As the new generation emerged, a new pope, Leo XIII, ascended the throne of Peter, and himself sought to confront the new industrial world emerging all over the west without sacrificing the essentials of the faith.

As the church in America turned toward a new century, then, it confronted the question: what does it mean to be Catholic and American?


This display has been selected and arranged by Timothy Meagher, University Archivist and Museum Director, using material from the collection and donations from the community.