The American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives houses the richest collection of materials related to the First World in the United States. As America nears the 100th anniversary of the United States’ entry into the First World War, the Archives is making hundreds of pages of photographs, letters, scrapbooks, and other documents available online to the public free of charge in a new website:
Chronicling the U.S. Catholic Experience in the First World War.
When the wheels of the war machinery were set in motion with the United States declaration of war on April 6, 1917, 5 million Americans were mobilized for victory. Among those were over 800,000 American Catholics, an often unwelcome religious minority in the U.S. at the time. The American bishops, hoping to provide comfort and service to Catholic servicemen as well as demonstrate Catholic loyalty to the nation, created the National Catholic War Council. The War Council became the precursor of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, hence Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s recent announcement that the Bishops’ Conference would be commemorating the centennial of the war’s end in November 2017 with events celebrating the history of the Bishops’ conference.
The Archives, which holds the War Council’s records, among many others related to Catholic participation in the War, has made key parts of these and other collections digitally available. From the War Council records, we have digitized dozens of photos and documents related to Catholic soldiers’ experiences overseas, women’s war work, and the early workings of the Bishops’ Conference. Bringing the war experience to the individual human level, the digitized Robert Lincoln O'Connell papers chronicle the experience of an Irish-American Catholic veteran of the war in correspondence and postcards. Underscoring the eclecticism of the materials, we have digitized a series of articles published by the National Catholic News Service in the late 1920s, Catholic Heroes of the World War, a chronicle of men, and some women, who won the Congressional Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, and/or the Distinguished Service Medal. Among these are a tribute to Buffalo, New York native and future Office of Strategic Services mastermind, William “Wild Bill” Donovan. Donovan earned Congressional Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Distinguished Service Medal. 165th Infantry, 42nd Division, American Expeditionary Forces (AEF).
Lesser known heroes are also featured in the online collections. Recently digitized are the papers of Margaret Richards Millar, a descendant of Mayflower colonists who converted to Catholicism and served on the Committee on Special War Activities of the National Catholic War Council. Her papers offer an intimate glimpse into one woman’s service on behalf of Catholics in Europe.
Finally, Archives staff have compiled other resources highlighting Catholic participation in the war. The For God and Country blogpost recounts CUA’s role in the war, as does Catholic University Declares War, and Catholic Women in World War One focuses on the role of Catholic women’s organizations in the war.
Links to all of our World War One materials are conveniently collected on a single webpage: Chronicling the U.S. Catholic Experience in the First World War.