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The Catholic University of America

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A pontifical institution located in Washington, D.C. It comprises the Schools of the Sacred Sciences, Philosophy, Law, Letters, and Science, each of which includes several departments. Under the supreme authority of the Holy See, the governing power of the university resides in the episcopate of the United States, and by their delegation in the board of trustees, composed of bishops, priests, and laymen. The president of the board is the Chancellor of the University, and this office is held by the Archbishop of Baltimore ex officio. The immediate government of the university is entrusted to the rector who is assisted by the academic senate. Instruction is given by professors, associate professors, and tutors. The number of these in 1907 was 32; the number of students (1906-1907) was 210. The library contains 100,000 volumes. The official organ of the university is "The Catholic University Bulletin" published quarterly 1895-1907, and since 1908 eight times yearly. Other official publications are the "General Announcements", the "Announcements" of the different Schools and the rector's "Annual Report".

In the Second Plenary Council of Baltimore, October, 1866, the Bishops expressed their desire for the establishment of a university. The project took definite shape in the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore (1884) which included in its "Acta et Decreta" the decision to found a university and accepted Miss Mary Gwendoline Caldwell's offer of $300,000 to inaugurate the work. Washington was selected as the site, and the Right Rev. John J. Keane, then Bishop of Richmond, was appointed rector. Pope Leo XIII, in 1887, sanctioned the undertaking and by the Apostolic Letter "Magni nobis gaudii" (7 March, 1889) approved the constitution and statutes, and empowered the university to grant the usual degrees. The scope of the university as defined by Leo XIII was "to provide instruction in every department of learning to the end that the clergy and laity alike might have an opportunity to satisfy fully their laudable desire for knowledge". The pope furthermore urged that the seminaries, colleges, and other Catholic institutions of learning should be affiliated to the university; and he ordained that no step should be taken towards founding any other university without the approbation of the Holy See.

The School of Sacred Sciences was opened in November, 1889. This was followed in 1895 by the School of Philosophy for which Mgr. James McMahon of New York donated the hall bearing his name. Chairs were founded by Miss Caldwell (2); the Misses Andrews, Baltimore; the Misses Drexel, Philadelphia; Mr. & Mrs. Eugene Kelly, New York (2); Hon. M.P. O'Connor, San José, California; Patrick Quinn, Philadelphia; Mrs. C.B. Whitford, Baltimore; Joseph Banigan, Providence; Col. M.P. O'Brien, New Orleans (3); Rev. A.H. Walburg, Cincinnati; Miss Margaret Gardiner, Baltimore; The Catholic Total Abstinence Union; The Ancient Order of Hibernians; and the Knights of Columbus. Founders of fellowships were Miss Anna Hope Hudson, Baltimore, and Rev. Thomas Brehony, Wilkesbarre, Pennsylvania. Scholarships were endowed by the Messrs. Benziger, New York; Duke Joseph de Loubat, New York; Michael Jenkins, Baltimore; Miss Emily Harper, Baltimore; Charles M. Routt, Alton, Illinois; Rev. W.A. Nolan, Butler, Pennsylvania; Rev. Dwight Lyman, Govanstown, Maryland; Miss Winifred Martin, Baltimore; Rev. P.J. Lavin, Necedah, Wisconsin; Miss Mary D. Peabody, Washington; Rev. Thomas Carroll, Oil City, Pennsylvania; The Mitchell Memorial Committee, Brooklyn; The Catholic Young Men's National Union; the Right Rev. John J. Conroy, second Bishop of Albany, New York; Very Rev. Mgr. R.L. Burtsell, Rondout, New York; Miss Ruth C. Dana, Boston; the Most Rev. John Hennessy, Archbishop of Dubuque; Rev. E.W.J. Lindesmith, Rootstown, Ohio; Rev. James Brennan, Erie, Pennsylvania; Timothy Riordan, Baltimore, Edward Johnson, Milwaukee; the Right Rev. T.M. Burke, Bishop of Albany, New York; Rev. P.J. Murphy, Oliphant, Pennsylvania; the Right Rev. Mgr. D.W. Murphy, Dover, New Hampshire; the Right Rev. Mgr. J.M. Mackey, Cincinnati.

The university has also received donations and bequests from Albert F. Ryan, Norfolk, Virginia; Michael Cudahy, Chicago, Illinois; Miss Lina Caldwell, Newport, Rhode Island; Miss Rebecca Reyburn, Baltimore, Maryland; Miles P. O'Connor, San José, California; Mrs. A.R. Reynolds, Philadelphia; David T. Leahy, Brooklyn, New York; Messrs. Leopold Hüffer and Sons, Paris, France; O. Andrews, Baltimore, Maryland; Miss Eliza P. Blight, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Sylvester Johnson, Louisville, Kentucky; Rev. J. Lambert, Laconia, New Hampshire; Gen. John Lawlor, Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin; John McCaffrey, Albany, New York; Miss M. Moran, Baltimore; M. Murphy, Chicago, Illinois; J.F. Sinnott, Philadelphia; Mrs. Stanley, Baltimore; J. Walsh, Baltimore; Rev. J.J. Doherty, Hernsdale, Pennsylvania; J.P. Morgan, C.A. Hoyt and A. Dougherty, New York. Numerous subscriptions were also made to the Divinity, University Chapel, and Guarantee Funds, as also to the Archbishop Kenrick Chair and the Archbishop Williams Chair.

In 1896, Bishop Keane was succeeded in the rectorship by Rev. Thomas J. Conaty of Worcester, Massachusetts, who became (1903) Bishop of Los Angeles. His successor was the Right Rev. Denis J. O'Connell, appointed (1907) Bishop of Sebaste. His prudent administration and the generous response of the Catholic people in the collection which Pius X directed to be taken up annually in each diocese enabled the university to overcome the financial difficulties which it encountered in 1904.

Since its foundation the university has gradually become a centre of learning for the laity, the diocesan clergy, and the religious orders. The institutions grouped about it, with the dates of establishment, are as follows: St. Thomas College (Paulist Fathers), 1889; Marist College (Marists), 1891; Holy Cross College (Congregation of the Holy Cross), 1895; College of the Holy Land (Franciscans), 1897; St. Austin's College (Sulpicians), 1901; The Apostolic Mission House (Catholic Missionary Union), 1902; College of the Immaculate Conception (Dominicans), 1903. These colleges are the novitiates and houses of study of the several communities; their advanced students pursue courses in the University. Other affiliated institutions, outside the city of Washington, are the St. Paul Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota, and the Institute of Scientific Study, New York. In compliance with the express desire of the Holy See the university has contributed toward the improvement and co-ordination of the Catholic schools in the United States and has taken an active part in the organization and proceedings of the Catholic Educational Association established for the purpose of unifying and furthering educational work. Though as yet but partially developed and inadequately endowed, it has exerted a salutary influence by encouraging research, maintaining a high standard of scholarship, and impressing upon the minds of the Catholics throughout the country the need of providing university education under Catholic auspices.


HERBERMANN, in Am. Cath. Quart. Review (Philadelphia, 1889); HEWITT, in The Catholic World (New York), XLII, 85; KEANE, ibid. XLVII, 577; XLIX, 427; MAAS, in Amer. Eccl. Review (Dec., 1903); McPOLIN, in New Ireland Review (Jan., 1908); SHAHAN, The House of God (New York, 1905), gives a good bibliography, p. 347.

About this page

APA citation. Pace, E. (1908). The Catholic University of America. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Pace, Edward. "The Catholic University of America." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 3. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Dennis McCarthy. For my mother, Dian Aldridge McCarthy, class of 1965.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. November 1, 1908. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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