Catholics at the Columbian Exposition

Alcove in the Catholic Educational Exhibition. From collection of Catholic University.

Alcove in the Catholic Educational Exhibition. From collection of Catholic University.

The World’s Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago in 1893, was an important opportunity for Catholics to demonstrate their place in American society. They did so by sponsoring two programs: the Columbian Catholic Congress and the Catholic Educational Exhibit. The former, a series of addresses, took place within the building that now houses the Art Institute of Chicago while the latter, an exhibition highlighting Catholic educational institutions from across the country, was held in the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building in the center of the White City.

Using primary sources available in the collections of Loyola’s Special Collections and University Archives as well as online, the Scholars analyzed how America’s Catholics presented themselves through these programs. Catholics had experienced a great deal over the course of the nineteenth century, both in Chicago and across the country. As they look back and forward, how did Catholics present themselves? What argument were they trying to make about themselves and their place in the nation and the larger world?

A perennial tension that we have seen this semester has been over how Catholics balance their allegiance to a global Catholic Church on the one hand and to the nation on the other. The Scholars were also asked to ponder how Catholics addressed this longstanding question in their presentations at the Exposition.

  • Hector provides an overview of the thinking and planning that went into the Columbian Exposition and Catholic efforts for inclusion;
  • Protestants figure as audience or as possible coworkers in Susie and Maya’s readings of different speakers at the Catholic Congresses;
  • Shannon uncovers a variety of variety of emphases within American Catholic thought on the relationship between the church and state in the speeches of four distinguished speakers;
  • Guy finds in the speech of the Rector of the nation’s new Catholic University echoes of several of the themes we’ve seen developing over the course of the nineteenth century;
  • Claire was intrigued by the display of pedagogical approaches in the Exposition’s Catholic Educational Exhibit while Bianca focused her analysis on the student-produced visual culture on display in each of the booths;
  • Andrew recounts the complex explanation offered by American Catholics at the Exposition to celebrate the church as both a global institution and an essential element of the American nation.

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