The Catholic University of America

The Catholic University of America

The Catholic University of America, founded in 1887 by the U.S. Catholic bishops with the support of Pope Leo XIII, is the national and pontifical university of the Catholic Church in the U.S. On this ride I stopped by to see their campus, which is located in northeast D.C., and is bound by Michigan Avenue to the south, North Capitol Street to the west, Hawaii Avenue to the north, and John McCormick Road to the east.  The campus’ main entrance is located at 620 Michigan Avenue (MAP) in D.C.’s Brookland neighborhood.  Brookland is also sometimes known as “Little Rome”, because in addition to the Catholic University, the neighborhood also contains 59 other Catholic institutions and organizations, including Trinity Washington University, the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, and St Mary’s Catholic Cemetery. 

The earliest origins of the Catholic University of America dates back to a discussion about the church’s need for a national university during the Second Plenary Council of Baltimore in 1866. Bishop John Lancaster Spalding then persuaded family friend Mary Gwendoline Caldwell to pledge $300,000 to establish it. In 1882 Bishop Spalding went to Rome to obtain Pope Leo XIII’s support for the University.  And on April 10, 1887, Pope Leo sent James Cardinal Gibbons a letter granting permission to begin the university.  It was incorporated later that year on 66 acres of land next to the Old Soldiers Home. President Grover Cleveland was in attendance for the laying of the cornerstone of Divinity Hall, now known as Caldwell Hall, on May 24, 1888, as were members of Congress and the U.S. Cabinet.

Over the years the University’s campus has been expanded to 193-acres, and Romanesque and modern design dominate among its 55 major buildings. Today the campus community includes over 6,000 students from all 50 states and around the world.  There are over 100 registered student clubs and organizations on campus for a wide variety of interests including athletics, academics, social, Greek life, service, political and, of course, religious.  In addition to 21 research centers and facilities, the Catholic University has 13 schools offering doctorate or professional degrees  in 66 programs, master’s degrees in 103 programs, and undergraduate degrees are in 72 different programs.  And while the university welcomes students of all faiths, 84% of undergraduates self-identify as Catholic.

On a personal level I found visiting the campus and learning about the university interesting because I also attended college founded by a church. I graduated from Eastern Mennonite College (now University), which was founded and is affiliated with one of the historic peace churches, the Mennonite Church USA. Despite vast differences in their sizes, enrollment, as well as programs, and the theological and doctrinal differences, they also share many similarities, which made my visit to Catholic University seem almost like I was an alumni returning for a visit.

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