Discover the rich history of America’s Catholic Church

The History and Heritage of America’s Catholic Church

The United States has long been considered the great melting pot, where people from many diverse lands have come to dwell. The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception 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.

Built by generations of faithful American Catholics to honor the patroness of our nation—the Blessed Virgin Mary under her title of the Immaculate Conception — the National Shrine is affectionately referred to as 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.

Religious communities from around the world are also represented, including the Augustinians, Carmelites, Claretians, Dominicans, Franciscans, Jesuits, Montfort Missionaries, Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Redemptorists, Salesians, Sisters of Charity, Sisters of Providence, and Vincentians.

The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception truly is the embodiment of the people who are the fabric of the Catholic faith and mosaic of our great nation.

Saint John Paul II, the first pope to visit the National Shrine, perhaps best expressed its essence:

“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.” (October 7, 1979)

Foundation Stone is laid for the National Shrine
The History of the National Shrine

Affectionately referred to as America’s Catholic Church, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception has been a century in the making.

Although its 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.”

Through the generosity of generations of American Catholics, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception 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.

National Shrine History Timeline

Explore the remarkable history of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception from its earliest beginnings to present day. This interactive historical timeline highlights the important moments and major milestones of America’s Catholic Church.

Past Events

View the historic visits and events that have happened at Mary’s Shrine – a century in the making.