Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

On August 15th of 1913, the project that Msgr. Thomas Shahan has been working on and dreaming of since the early 1900s was given the green light by none other than Pope Pius X. The approval was for the building of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and the pope personally donated $400 to its construction ($10,000 in today’s money).[1] The site of the national shrine was to be on the campus of The Catholic University of America in Washington D.C., which Msgr. Shahan was the rector of at the time. Shahan’s desire for the building of the shrine stemmed from the large Marian devotion during the 20th century as well as from a desire in raising the prestige of the Catholic Church in America. Indeed, Shahan stated that “every nation has some great National Monument in honor of our Blessed Mother,” revealing his belief that the United States needed to join the rest of Christendom in honoring Mary.[2]

Rt. Rev. Thomas Shahan 1993.018.EOS017

Rt. Rev. Thomas Shahan
1993.018.EOS017; CHRC

Early plans for the shrine were more in line with a 14th century French Gothic Cathedral; however, eventually Shahan and the Building Committee, which Cardinal Dougherty served as the chairman, choose an architectural firm that proposed the merging of Byzantine and Romanesque styles.[3] The change in design had a number of reasons, which the architect, Charles Maginnis, stated arose out of a desire for a “distinctively American” church that would allow for a blending of the architecture in Washington D.C.[4] Another practical reason was the contemporary building of the Episcopal Cathedral in the Gothic style just across town.[5]


Early draft of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception; CHRC

While mainly a story of the Church in Washington D.C., Philadelphia would have a number of important connections to the building of the shrine, including Reverend Bernard McKenna, who acted as Shahan’s secretary from 1915-1929 and then as the first director of the shrine from 1929-1933.[6] McKenna was born in Philadelphia in 1876 and was ordained in 1903.[7] He would pay a large part in organizing the fundraising for the construction, which began with the publication of Salve Regina in 1914.[8] By 1920 over $160,000 had been collected to fund the shrine, with contributions increasing over the decade so that by 1933 over $3 million had been raised.[9] One interesting aspect of the fundraisers was that much of the effort was marketed and geared to women, with Shahan and McKenna working with the National Organization of Catholic Women and other such groups to raise funds.[10]

Card. Gibbons laying cornerstone for Immaculate Conception/National Shrine 9-23-1920

Card. Gibbons laying cornerstone for Immaculate Conception/National Shrine 9-23-1920; CHRC

Finally on September 23, 1920, seven years after papal approval, the cornerstone was laid down and blessed before a crowd of 10,000.[11] The ceremony was presided by Cardinal James Gibbons of Baltimore, with representatives from the United States government, including Justice Joseph McKenna, and 23 other nations in attendance.[12] The cornerstone, weighing 4-tons, was donated by James Sexton of Connecticut, with 100 small pieces given out as souvenirs to dignitaries.[13] Despite the cornerstone being laid in 1920, actual construction did not begin for another 2 years. Construction of the Crypt Church began in earnest in September of 1922 so that by 1924 the first Mass was able to be celebrated on Easter.[14] The building continued along through the 1920s until 1931 when the crypt level was completed; however, because of the Great Depression, funding dried up so work the upper level was halted.[15] Due to the delay, Shahan would to be unable to see the end of the project as he passed way in 1932. However, because of his role in the building of the Basilica, Shahan was buried in the shrine, the only person to receive the honor.

Crypt of the National Shrine 1990.193 Box 9

Crypt of the National Shrine
1993.17; CHRC

It would not be until after World War II that plans to finish the shire were developed. A general appeal by all the U.S. bishops went out in 1953, raising over $8 million, which allowed construction to resume in 1954.[16] Maginnis resumed the role of architect and began where he left off 20 years prior. Building continued through the rest of the 1950s, with the official dedication held on November 20th, 1959.[17]  The building of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception has been a long project, which continues even to today. Despite this, the Basilica has become a center of Catholic worship and has given the country a shrine that rivals others from around the world.

1990.018 Box 1

1993.018 Box 1; CHRC

For more on the Basilica visit our online catalog  and our archives for material on the dedication or copies of Salve Regina.

Misericordia Hospital

A New Hospital for the Sisters of Mercy, (1915)

A New Hospital for the Sisters of Mercy, (1915)

On July 2, 1918 the Sisters of Mercy opened a new 100 bed hospital in West Philadelphia.[1] Named Misericordia Hospital, the opening of hospital was a long project that dated back to 1910 when Archbishop Prendergast first approached the Sisters about building a hospital.[2] So with the support of the Archbishop, Mother Mary Patricia Waldron, head of the order in Philadelphia, purchased a farm plot for $100,000 after having to mortgage most of the Sister’s properties.[3] To help offset the costs, Prendergast started a fundraising campaign in 1915, which raised over $160,000 in the first two weeks alone.[4] With the new funds, the Sisters broke ground on the hospital on October 24, 1915 and had a ceremony for the cornerstone on September 24, 1916.[5] Original designs for the hospital involved the main building as well as four diagonal wings to form a cross of Saint Andrew; however, only the main structure would be built.[6]



Dedication of the Misericordia Hospital, 1918

The Hospital was dedicated on June 9, 1918 by Bishop McCort, who declared that “on this glorious day, the dreams of years are realized and sacrifices untold have their reward.[7]  Unfortunately, neither Mother Patricia nor Archbishop Prendergast would live to see the completion of the hospital that they was so influential in building, having passed away in July of 1916 and February of 1918 respectfully.[8]

Misericordia had a quiet two days after opening before the first patient, a Ms. Bridget Murry, was admitted into the hospital. [9] Since that day the staff has continued to care for the sick of West Philadelphia. Indeed, a report on the first two years of the hospital stated that the medical staff had cared for over 4,000 patients as well as 16,000 people through the dispensary.[10] The report also broke down the types of diseases treated, with enlarged tonsils the most common with 609 and appendicitis the second most with 171 cases. Some interesting less common cases were one case of arsenic poisoning and 10 gunshot wounds.[11]


First Report of the Misericordia Hospital, 60.

Due to the demands on the hospital, the Sisters quickly decided to expand and opened a west wing in 1921. This expansion was necessary as Misericordia would see over a half a million patients come through its doors within the first twenty years. The hospital continued to expand and would add two more wings over the years, bring the total number of beds to 400 by 1968.[12]


The Nursed Record of the First Graduating Class of the Misericordia Hospital (Philadelphia 1921), 32.

An important component of Misericordia hospital was its use as a teaching center for doctors and nurses. Indeed, even before the hospital officially opened, the Sisters of Mercy set up a training program for nurses. The first class of 21 students started in May of 1918 and graduated on May 21, 1921.[13] By 1968 almost 2,000 nurses were trained at Misericordia.[14]

Misericordia Hospital: One-Half Century of Service, 1918-1968, (1968), 17.

In 1967 plans were made to merge the running of Misericordia with Fitzgerald Mercy, a hospital in Delaware County run by the Sisters of Mercy. One of the major goals of the merger was to increases and expand the medical teaching programs, which would allow students to be exposed to more treatments of various diseases. The last class of nurses graduated in 1971 due to the closing of the the nursing program.[15]

The hospital would continue to expand with a new cancer treatment center opened in 1992 and and an emergency care facility in 1996.[16] While Misericordia was renamed in 1997 to Mercy Hospital of Philadelphia and since 2008 has been known as Mercy Philadelphia Hospital, it has continuously served sick in Philadelphia for 100 years.



[1] First Report of the Misericordia Hospital: July 2, 1918-May 31, 1920, 11.

[2] Misericordia Hospital: One-Half Century of Service, 1918-1968, (1968), 12.

[3] One-Half Century, 13.

[4] A New Hospital for the Sisters of Mercy, (1915); One-Half Century, 13.

[5] One-Half Century, 13-14.

[6] “Our History,” Mercy Philadelphia Hospital,

[7] “Misericordia Hospital Solemnly Dedicated,” Catholic Standard and Times, (June 15, 1918), 3.

[8] “Our History.”

[9] One-Half Century, 14

[10] First Report, 20

[11] First Report, 29-32.

[12] One-Half Century, 15.

[13] The Nursed Record of the First Graduating Class of the Misericordia Hospital (Philadelphia 1921), 25-27.

[14] One-Half Century, 17.

[15] “From Misericordia to Mercy Philadelphia: 100 Years of Compassionate Care, 1918-2018.”

[16] “From Misericordia to Mercy Philadelphia.”

The Centennial Fountain

(This post follows up on the last blog about the history of the Temperance Movement)

With the approach of the centennial celebrations in Philadelphia to mark the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the Catholic Total Abstinence Union of the Diocese of Philadelphia wanted to partake in the festivities. To do so, the organization proposed building a fountain in Fairmount Park to celebrate temperance, Catholicism, and Irish-heritage. In order to accomplish this plan, in 1873 the group brought a proposal forward at the third annual convention for Catholic Total Abstinence Union of America (CTAU). The resolution passed with the stated goal of the fountain being a “testimony to the patriotic feeling of the Catholic Total Abstainers all over the United States.”[1]


CHRC Catholic Standard, March 25, 1876, SB1, page 224

With the approval and backing of the national society, the Philadelphia chapter began planning and fundraising. After an original design focusing on the connection between America and Ireland was rejected, a main theme around Moses striking the rock to give water to the Israelites was chosen.[2] The change was due to the Moses allegory of life giving water being better focused on the CTAU’s mission to encourage people to turn away from alcohol. While the main Irish American connection was removed, the CTAU incorporated it into other elements including four statues of famous Irish-Catholics in American history. The men chosen for this honor were Commodore John Barry, founder of the United States Navy, Archbishop John Carroll, first Bishop of Baltimore, Father Matthew, founder of the total abstinence movement in Ireland and America, and Charles Carroll, signer of the Declaration of Independence.[3]



The committee in charge of the fountain began to accept proposals for the statues in October of 1874. They choose Herman Kirn, a German sculptor, to create the five statues by April 1876 agreeing to pay $10,275 for the work.[4] Since there was only two years to complete the project, the committee also hired contractors for other parts of the fountain, such as Hobbs and Sons for the structures, basins, and pedestals and Comber and Co for the granite work.[5] Work began on the fountain on July 5th 1875 with the groundbreaking, giving the workers only a year to finish the construction.

In order to pay for the project, the Philadelphia chapter of the CTAU began to have public rallies to raise donations. While they were able to raise $11,000 by 1875, the committee still needed more money and so reached out to the CTAU for support.[6] However, many other societies in the CTAU were reluctant to fundraise for the project because they saw it was a purely Philadelphia endeavor.[7] Due to this concern, the entire CTAU had raised barely half of what Philadelphia did in the same time.[8] In order to make up the difference, at the fifth annual convention the CTAU passed a resolution for every society to raise one dollar per member in order to help cover the costs.[9] By the time the fountain was completed it would end up costing $54,000, with the statues going $5,000 over budget.[10]

CTAU Fountain, Herman Kirn w. John Carroll

Herman Kirn with statue of John Carroll

As the centennial year approached, the fountain was still far from completion as none of the statues were finished and only a fourth of the granite work was done. Indeed, it was not until April of 1876 that Kirn completed the first statue of Commodore Barry and since Kirn was working in Germany, it did not reach Philadelphia until June. There were a number of reasons for the delays including payment debates between the CTAU and Kirn as well as problems with the marble that Kirn received.[11] Due to these delays, when the CTAU had the official dedication and celebration parade on July 4th 1876, only Barry was installed. However, the rest of the fountain was ready, so Governor John Carroll of Maryland was able to turn the water on, which flowed into the 16 drinking basins.[12]

 Centennial Exhibition from Observatory, George's

Centennial Exhibition from Observatory, George’s Hill (note the single statue on the left pedestal)

As the centennial year and the exhibition came to a close, the fountain still remained unfinished. It would not be until March of 1877 that the other three corner statues were finished and the statue of Moses would not be installed until July 4th 1877, over a year late.[13] Despite this, the fountain was considered a huge success with one newspaper stating that it was an “expression of the sterling patriotism which has ever characterized the Catholic Church in America.”[14] While the Centennial Fountain was not ready for the centennial and now no longer functions as a fountain, it still stands as a monument to the Catholic Total Abstinence Union and the work of Catholics in America.


Photo by Colin Varga

Visit the archives to see more images and information on the building of the fountain and the centennial celebrations.

  • [1] Joseph Gibbs, History of the Catholic Total Abstinence Union of America, (Philadelphia: 1907), 26.
  • [2] Daria Gasparini, “A Celebration of Moral Force: The Catholic Total Abstinence Union of American Centennial Fountain,” Master’s Thesis (University of Pennsylvania, 2002), 7.
  • [3] Gibbs, History of the Catholic, 34.
  • [4] Gasparini, “A Celebration of Moral Force,” 25.
  • [5] Ibid., 31-32.
  • [6] Gibbs, History of the Catholic, 34
  • [7] Gasparini, “A Celebration of Moral Force,” 22.
  • [8] Gibbs, History of the Catholic, 34.
  • [9] Ibid., 34.
  • [10] Gasparini, “A Celebration of Moral Force,” 24.
  • [11] Gasparini, “A Celebration of Moral Force,” 40.
  • [12] Gibbs, History of the Catholic, 40.
  • [13] Ibid., 45.
  • [14] Ibid., 42.

Temperance Movement

Temperance movements have a long tradition in the United States, with the aim to not only eliminate drinking but to also improve the fabric of America. The first temperance society formed in 1789 in Connecticut and throughout the 19th century they spread across the country.[1] By 1841 there were 26 temperance and abstinence societies operating in Philadelphia alone.[2] One of those societies was the Total Abstinence Society, a Catholic organization founded in 1840 by an Augustinian priest named Moriarty.

Our Mother of Sorrows Total Abstinence Society

Our Mother of Sorrows Total Abstinence Society

Increasingly Catholic temperance societies become more popular, partly due to the effects of Father Matthew, a priest who helped start the temperance movement in Ireland and then traveled America from 1849-1851 to spread the cause.[3] With the growth in local societies, usually based around either parishes or dioceses, the need for a unifying national organization arose. So in 1872 in Baltimore, a national convention was held with 177 societies representing over 26,000 members.[4] It was here that the Catholic Total Abstinence Union of America (CTAU) was formed to help in establishing directives for both temperance and benevolence activities. An interesting side note, the proposed name first included “of the United States” instead “of America” but objections from Canadian societies also in attendance resulted in the change.[5]

Members of the union pledged to “abstain from… the sin of intemperance” and to “change the wretched abode of the drunkard into a home of peace and prosperity,” highlighting the belief that drinking not only threatened the salvation of the soul but also endangered the functioning of society.[6] In addition to the national union, many societies also created regional unions as well. For instance, the Catholic Total Abstinence Union of the Diocese of Philadelphia formed in March of 1872, comprising of two societies and 150 members.[7]

Catholic Total Abstinence Union

Catholic Total Abstinence Union

In order to fulfill its mission and pledge, the CTAU relied on public rallies in order to gain support and convince people to give up alcohol. In addition, the union made use of numerous newspapers, such as Boston’s The Pilot or New York’s Catholic Society Journal of America in order to spread the message of temperance.[8] Another way that the CTAU and other temperance societies tried to increase abstinence was through the building of public drinking fountains, as they believed that better access to clean water would keep the poor from turning to beer and liquor. Indeed, a fountain in New York declared that “There is no poison in my cup! Drink and Live,” which illustrates the concern that without clean water to drink, the people would continue to drink the poison of alcohol.[9] (The building of the most famous CTAU fountain, the Continental Fountain will be discussed in a future blog.)


CTAU printed material, AC0077 CHRC

The membership of the CTAU continued to grow during its early years, gaining an additional 400 society branches by 1876. However, the following year the union complained about a fall in per capita members, blaming it on the growing acceptance of abstinence and thus decrease in need for the societies.[10] This decrease likely influenced the CTAU’s decision to allow women societies to become honorary members in 1878 and then full active members by 1880; although they had to send male delegates to the annual convention.[11] Membership began to increase by the turn of the century, with over 1,000 societies associated with the CTAU, giving them a membership of over 66,000.[12]

President Roosevelt speaking before C.T.A.U. delegates and United Mine Workers of America

President Roosevelt speaking before C.T.A.U. delegates and United Mine Workers of America

One of the largest events held by the CTAU was the 1905 annual convention in Wilkes-Barre, PA when President Teddy Roosevelt spoke as the keynote to over 80,000 people. The Catholic Total Abstinence Union continued have its annual meetings even after the passing of the 18th amendment, which outlawed the production and sale of alcohol. After the 21st amendment repealed Prohibition, the CTAU continued to function well into the mid twentieth century. While total abstinence failed to take hold as national policy, the rise of temperance societies, including Catholic Total Abstinence Union, are an important chapter in the history of the United States.

Annual Convention, Catholic Total Abstinence Union of America, August 9, 1939

Annual Convention, Catholic Total Abstinence Union of America, August 9, 1939

To learn more of the CTAU come to the archives to see the papers, ephemera, and photos. See our online catalog for a list of material.

  • [1] Joseph Gibbs, History of the Catholic Total Abstinence Union of America, (Philadelphia: 1907), 11.
  • [2] Daria Gasparini, “A Celebration of Moral Force: The Catholic Total Abstinence Union of American Centennial Fountain,” Master’s Thesis (University of Pennsylvania, 2002), 47.
  • [3] Ibid., 47.
  • [4] Ibid., 49.
  • [5] Gibbs, History of the Catholic, 19.
  • [6] Gasparini, “A Celebration of Moral Force,” 49.
  • [7] Ibid. 50.
  • [8] Ibid., 51.
  • [9] Ibid., 53.
  • [10] Gibbs, History of the Catholic, 42 & 44.
  • [11] Ibid., 49 & 58.
  • [12] Ibid., 159.