New industrialization offered many opportunities in the United States. Great numbers of people recognized the possibilities and prepared to take advantage of them. From 1830 to 1850 more than one million Catholic immigrants came to the eastern seaboard of the United States settling in the large urban areas where work was abundant and housing available. These Catholic immigrants were embarking on a new life in a strange land controlled by Protestants. This difference in religious belief results in prejudice and discrimination against Catholics who were the minority. This discrimination eventually led to the development of the Catholic school system. All of these events are what we call the Catholic Issue.

Once the new families settled in the United States the prejudice against them presented itself. This prejudice was most evident in families with school aged children. Religion was a focal point of education in this period and the Protestants were in control. The public schools used the King James translation of the Bible which the Catholics strongly objected to. Catholics did not accept the teachings of the Protestant church or schools as they were then constituted. They believed that education of their children would be most prosperous with the use of Catholic type bibles and prayers. The Catholics request for the use of their bible and prayers in the public school was denied. The Catholic children were forced to become more Protestant if they were to be educated.

The Catholics feared a loss of support for their church if Catholic children were to attend public school. The Baltimore Council prohibited Catholics from attending public schools, from using the Protestant Bible, and from singing sectarian hymns. Determined to maintain the unity of the Catholic church, the development of a parochial school system became an absolute necessity. Setting up the schools presented a problem, money.

Governor William H. Seward and Bishop John Hughes of the New York diocese were both active in the controversy of Catholic schools. The Governor was willing to use public funds to aid parochial schools and the Bishop would have accepted this offer. This would not prove to be the case because the offer was rejected by the Common Council which was supported by the Protestant churches. The same struggle was going on in Philadelphia. However this struggle did not end so peacefully. Bishop Francis Patrick Kenrick asked if Catholic children might be permitted to read from the Douay Bible instead of the King James Bible. The School Board agreed to this offer but Protestant religious newspapers and speakers were vocal about their disagreement. As a result of the outburst of opposition by Protestants, discrimination against Catholics escalated. Riots, burning of Catholic churches, and several deaths occurred. Another important legal event of this period was Donahoe v. Richards. The Supreme Court of Maine decided that a School Board had the legal and constitutional right to to expel a child from school for refusing to read the bible used by the school. This case also led to a great uproar in the small community where it originated.

There were many incidents of prejudice against Catholics in the United States in the nineteenth century. The denial for the request to use there own bible and prayers in the public schools left no other alternative for the leaders of the Catholic church. They must establish a parochial school system in order to keep unity in the church. This led to many denials for funding for their schools and even escalated to violence in Philadelphia. All of these events made up the Catholic Issue and eventually led to the private Catholic school system as it is today.


1. The American School in Transition, William Drake.

2. Turning Points in American Educational History, David B. Tyack.

Prepared by Julie Kern