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The American Catholic Historical Society was founded with a mission to collect and preserve materials related to the history of the Catholic Church in the United States. During its early decades, its historical collections grew to include a range of materials, including books, pamphlets, newspapers, parish histories, photographs, manuscript collections, and artifacts.

In the early days of the Society, the materials collected by the Historical Research Committee were housed in the headquarters at 715 Spruce Street in Philadelphia. In 1932, financial circumstances prompted the Society to turn its historical collections over to the perpetual care of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, where they became a cornerstone of the archdiocesan archives. The Society maintains only a small collection of paintings and historical objects at its headquarters.

The vast majority of its historical collections are housed at the Catholic Historical Research Center of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, where they are open to researchers.

Historical Collections Include:

Manuscripts

The Society’s collections include the papers and records of approximately 100 Catholic individuals and organizations, including The Fenian Brotherhood, an Irish-American Nationalist society; Martin Griffin, the noted Philadelphia publisher and historian; Herman Hauser, the founder of the American Ecclesiastical Review; and the Rodrigue Family, French emigres from San Domingue (Haiti).

Newspapers and Periodicals

The Society’s collections include approximately 200,000 issues of Catholic newspapers, mainly from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many of which are extremely rare.  They also include approximately 150 Catholic periodicals from that same time period, including children’s, literary, theological, and pastoral magazines.

Pamphlets

The Society’s collections include nearly 9,000 pamphlets from the 1700s through the mid-twentieth century.  The majority concern issues relate to the development of Catholicism in the United States, including accounts of anti-Catholicism, as well as institutional and associational publications. 

Parish Histories

The Society’s collections include over 1,300 parish histories from across the United States, with over half drawn from parishes in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia  

Photographs

The Society’s collections include over 5,000 photographs and prints, including the Packard and Butler collection which contains several hundred black and white lithographs of churches throughout the United States dating from the 1880s. 

Digitized Collections

A portion of the Society’s historical collections were digitized through a partnership with Villanova University and are available as part of their Catholica Collection.