Pope Leo XIII opened the Vatican archives to scholars of all nations.
The organizing of the ACHS was sparked by the farsighted action taken in 1880 by Pope Leo XIII concerning the Vatican Archives, the richest collection of historical documents in the world. Since the Reformation, access to these priceless volumes had been permitted only to Catholics. The Pope, in a dramatic announcement, opened these archives to scholars of all nations, regardless of religious denomination or purpose.
Four years later, in July 1884, a group of Philadelphia citizens, mostly professional men, editors and historians, along with two priests, gathered for the purpose of forming a society to collect, research, record and maintain a history of Catholic contributions to our culture.
Accumulating materials on so many who had made an impact on our history was indeed a daunting task. Beginning with Columbus, Catholics had been prominent in adding to the forward progress of our nation.
The 1800s saw a continuing flow of Catholics entering the mainstream of American life. A steady flow of immigrants from Ireland and Germany, was followed by more from the Mediterranean nations, after which came the Slavic races-all primarily Catholics whose achievements in every field of endeavor were constantly enriching our culture.
Today the Society’s membership is represented in all parts of the world. Among its Presidents have been Ambassadors, Bishops, Physicians, Judges and business leaders.
Many Colleges, Universities, and Public Libraries in the United States, Canada, and Western Europe subscribe to "American Catholic Studies" (formerly entitled "Records"), the journal of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia.
One of the major functions of the American Catholic Historical Society is the collection of material related to American Catholic History, which in recent times has dropped off. However, now that the new mechanisms are in place, we have begun again to gather material for the Historical Collection at the Archives. We have just received a major collection of diocesan histories of the United States, Canada and Ireland. If you have material you would like to donate to the Society, please write and give us a description of the material you wish to place in the collection.
While the Society has no official connection with the Roman Catholic Church, it has been acclaimed and endorsed over the years by dignitaries of the Church from Cardinal Gibbons, in 1891, and Archbishop Prendergast in 1917, to Anthony Cardinal Bevilacqua, Archbishop of Philadelphia.