German Immigrants

High Altar Crucifix used at St. Mary Mother of God
High Altar Crucifix used at St. Mary Mother of God, Catholic Church, Washington, DC, German Church established in 1845, St. Mary Mother of God Catholic Church

More German immigrants came to the United States in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries than any other group: over five million. A substantial proportion of these were Catholics: by 1890, there were an estimated two million German Catholics in the United States, about one quarter of all Catholics.

German Catholics were very committed to preserving their culture in the United States. Some historians suggested that German immigrants believed their cultural tradition to be at least as rich as any Anglo-American one; they preserved it then out of a sense of superiority not as a means of holding together an oppressed or beleaguered community. Many believed that the German language was the core of their culture and essential to the practice of their religion: "language saves faith." Germans thus established their own German language parishes and schools. By 1870 there were already over 700 German parishes in the United States and by the 1890s nearly every German parish had its own school. Schools and parishes, however, preserved not only language, but a very distinctive German liturgical and devotional life. German Catholics, historian Jay Dolan points out, had a much greater interest in the "pageantry and pomp of ceremonies" as well as music and art than the Irish or most native-born American Catholics. German Catholics also had their own devotions, to Saint Boniface or Saint Alphonsus for example, that they believed could be best maintained in their own churches and schools.

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