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(German Stiftung, French fondation, Italian fondazione, Latin fundatio)

An endowment is a property, fund, or revenue permanently appropriated for the support of any person, institution, or object, as a student, professorship, school, hospital. The term is more frequently applied to the establishment of eleemosynary corporations by private endowment. In ecclesiastical circles the word is employed also in a more restricted sense, signifying a conditional donation or legacy, i.e. the establishment of a fund, by the provisions of a last will or otherwise, in order to secure permanently, or at least for a long time, some spiritual benefit, as, for instance, the offering and application of a monthly or annual Mass.

The early Christians were lavish in their support of religion, and frequently turned their possessions over to the Church [Lallemand, "Hist. de la charité" (Paris, 1903), II; Uhlhorn, "Hist. of Christ. Charity"; Hefele, "Christenthum u. Wohlthätigkeit" in his "Beiträge", I, 175]. The Emperor Justinian (Novella lxvii) compelled those who built churches to endow them; and about the same time, ecclesiastical legislation prescribed that no cleric was to be ordained for a church without proper provision for his maintenance (Counc. of Epaon, 517, c. xxv). Whoever desired to have a parish church on his estate was obliged to set aside a sufficient landed endowment for its clerics (IV Counc. of Arles, 541, c. xxxiii); while a bishop was forbidden to consecrate a church till the endowment had been properly secured by a deed or charter (II Counc. of Braga, 572, c. v). If one who held a fief from the king built and endowed churches, the bishop was required to procure the royal confirmation of the gift (III Counc. of Toledo, 589, c. xv). Ancient and noble Roman families, as well as others of less means, inspired by feelings of love and gratitude, made large bequests to the Church. In the fifth century, in countries inhabited by German tribes, the Church was endowed especially with lands. These possessions were lost during the political and social upheaval that followed the Germanic invasions, known as the Wanderings of Nations. Towards the end of Charlemagne's reign the regenerated peoples contributed once more voluntarily and generously to the support of ecclesiastical institutions.

In England, both under Saxon and Norman domination the generous zeal of the faithful prompted them to secure by endowments a permanent priesthood, and to provide for the dignity and even splendour of Divine worship. A considerable portion of the foundations thus established in England was squandered or confiscated during the Reformation of Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth, while the remainder, by virtue of the Acts of Uniformity and Supremacy, was transferred to the Anglican Church, which still retains it. The conditions of the Catholics of England since the Reformation in temporal matters has not permitted to any extent the re-establishment of endowments, though instances have not been wanting and are on the increase. In Ireland and Scotland likewise the old foundations of the Church have been lost or diverted from their purpose. In Ireland the Protestant Church, which had received during the Reformation the lands and moneys of the Catholic Church, was disestablished and nominally disendowed by the Act of 1869, but so liberal were the compensations allowed that they amounted practically almost to a re-endowment. In Scotland the Presbyterians of the Established Church, owing to the immense influence of Knox in the sixteenth century, still possess what is left of the ancient endowments of the Catholic Church. Ecclesiastical endowments in France have undergone many vicissitudes, particularly from the year 1789, when a yearly income of about $14,000,000 was suddenly and unjustly confiscated. The influence of the French Revolution was felt elsewhere, especially in Germany, where by the fifty-fifth article of the Resolutions of the Deputation of the Empire (1803) "all property belonging to the foundations, abbeys and monasteries was committed to the free and full disposal of the respective rulers, who were to provide for the expense of public worship, of instruction, of founding useful public institutions, and of lightening their own financial embarrassments". In Italy the annexation of the States of the Church in 1859, 1860, and 1870 by the "King of United Italy" was also followed by the introduction of anti-ecclesiastical laws the robbery of the Church, and the spoliation of her institutions. The endowments that remain are for the most part administered by the Government. Foundations in America are not numerous and merit no special mention.

Canon law lays down strict regulations regarding the acceptance and management of endowments as well as the observance of the obligation arising therefrom. They are to be accepted only by those whose interests are at stake, as, for instance, the rector of a church, the administrator of an institution. The consent of the ordinary, if they are presented to a diocesan institution, or of the competent religious superior, if given to regulars, is requisite. The superior in question should assure himself that the income accruing from the investment is a sufficient recompense for the service demanded. Once the conditions of acceptance have been established, they are unchangeable, and it is incumbent on the bishop or religious superior, as above, to procure the fulfilment of the obligation imposed. A catalogue or table of these obligations assumed by a church is to be posted conspicuously in the sacristy — a general one for the diocese is reserved in the chancery office — while among the parochial books is one in which the satisfaction of these obligations is noted. The supreme law to be observed in this matter is the will of the founder of an endowment, to fulfil which the zealous vigilance of the Church is ever directed. If, however, the property or invested funds of an endowment entirely disappear through no fault of the church, the latter is exempt from its part of the contract. If a disproportion arise between the service required and the recompense, a proportionate reduction of the obligation entailed is permitted, under certain conditions, by the Holy See. Bishops are not allowed to lessen the original obligation, e.g. to reduce the number of Masses to be offered annually, though where the mind of the donor is not sufficiently clear, they may determine minor details, such as the hour of the service, or the altar at which it is to take place. Founders of churches frequently reserved to themselves, with the approbation of Rome, the right to administer the temporal concerns of such foundations and to suggest candidates for vacant benefices in said churches (see PATRONAGE), though ordinarily these trusts are under the supervision of a corporation or board of trustees.


ADDIS AND ARNOLD, A Catholic Dictionary (London, 1903), s.v.; PERMANEDER AND STEIN in Kirchenlex., s.v. Dotalgut, Armenpflege; DUCANGE, Gloss. med. et inf. Lat., s.v. Dos Ecclesiæ; HERGENROTHER-HOLLWECK, Lehrb. des kath. Kirchenr. (Freiburg, 1905), 875-77; MEURER, Begriff and Eigenth. der kirchl. Sachen (Düsseldorf); WERNZ, Jus Decretal., III, 218-26; manuals of canon law, e.g. VERING, Lehrb. des kath. orient. und prot. Kirchenr. (Freiburg, 1893), s.v. Stiftung, which treats of special conditions and questions in Germany, Austria, and Hungary.

About this page

APA citation. Meehan, A. (1909). Endowment. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Meehan, Andrew. "Endowment." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 5. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. May 1, 1909. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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