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The Remarkable History of America’s Catholic Church

The United States has long been considered the great melting pot, where people from many diverse lands make their home. The Basilica is proud to reflect this rich heritage of America. Home to more than 80 chapels and oratories honoring the Mother of God and representing peoples from every corner of the globe, the National Shrine reflects the ethnic and cultural diversity of the United States and the unity and universality of the Catholic Church. This Independence Day, we are proud to celebrate the variety of cultures and stories reflected in America’s Catholic Church!

Among the nationalities and ethnicities represented throughout the Basilica are African, Austrian, Chinese, Cuban, Czech, Filipino, French, German, Guamanian, Hungarian, Indian, Irish, Italian, Korean, Latin American, Lebanese, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Slovak, Slovenian, and Vietnamese. As Saint Pope John Paul II remarked so eloquently during his visit to the Basilica in 1979:

This Shrine speaks to us with the voice of all America, with the voice of all the sons and daughters of America, who have come here from the various countries…. When they came, they brought with them in their hearts the same love for the Mother of God that was characteristic of their ancestors and of themselves in their native lands. These people, speaking different languages, coming from different backgrounds of history and traditions in their own countries, came together around the heart of a Mother they all had in common.

Through the generosity of generations of American Catholics, the Basilica stands as our nation’s preeminent Marian shrine and patronal church, rivaling the great sanctuaries of Europe and the world, not only in size and stature, but also in beauty, dignity and sanctity. The Basilica has been a century in the making. Although the foundation stone was laid in 1920, this great Shrine seems to have been conceived of as early as 1846, the year the Bishops of America declared the Blessed Virgin Mary the patroness of the United States under her title of the Immaculate Conception. That year, the Lowell Courier Journal, a newspaper in Massachusetts, wrote of “a magnificent Catholic Church to be built at Washington, D.C. after the manner of the great cathedrals of the Old World from subscriptions of every Catholic Parish in America.”

The Basilica has been at the center of many monumental moments for American Catholicism. Pope Francis, Pope Benedict XVI, Saint Pope John Paul II, and Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta, among others, have visited the Basilica. In 2015, Pope Francis presided over the first canonization ever to take place on American soil, that of Saint Junípero Serra in an outdoor Mass.  As we celebrate our nation’s history, let us also celebrate the history of America’s Catholic Church.


The Basilica Summer Organ Recital Series: An Introduction
Reflecting Upon the Legacy of St. Junípero Serra