The Archivist’s Nook: Catholic University Declares War

CUA students in uniform on steps of McMahon Hall, 1917. Lawrence Wright Photograph Collection, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

The decisive entry of the United States of America into the calamitous First World War on April 6, 1917 joining Britain and France against Imperial Germany was a momentous event in the history of the American Catholic Church. Making up about seventeen percent of the American population, Catholic support of the war effort was a watershed event to prove their patriotism.  While many German and Irish Americans were not keen to assist the British, most Catholics believed it was a just war against an enemy whose submarines indiscriminately killed civilian passengers and oppressed the largely Catholic population of occupied Belgium. The fledgling Catholic University of America (CUA), established in 1887, was one of the first American Catholic institutions to declare itself when its rector, Bishop Thomas J. Shahan, wrote to President Woodrow Wilson on March 28, before the declaration of war, offering “such services as the Government of the United States may desire.” The President replied two days later expressing thanks “for your pledge of cooperation and support.”¹ Though partially addressed in a previous blog post, we now take a more in depth look at CUA’s wartime activities.

SATC at CUA Application, 1918, SATC Records, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

After the declaration of war, lay students military drilling on campus, forming three companies led by university instructors with prior military experience. A new gymnasium, ‘The Drill Hall,’ served both recreational and military needs. Many students also joined both reserve and active duty units. Soon, the U.S. War Department (a precursor to the Defense Department) inaugurated the Student Army Training Corps (SATC), an incarnation of today’s Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). The SATC used over 100 college campuses as training facilities for new military personnel, including nearly 400 inducted from CUA, while the University’s Rev. Dr. Peter Guilday served as one of the SATC Regional Vice-Directors. CUA contributed to the state in other ways, such as vigorously promoting Liberty Loan subscriptions to help fund the war effort and permitting the United States Navy to use Albert and Gibbons Halls as a paymaster training school, graduating nearly 600. More ominously, the United States Army used the Maloney Hall laboratory for important chemical research, developing Lewisite Gas, which thankfully went into production too late for use in the war.

Certificate of Appreciation from the U.S. War Department to The Catholic University of America (CUA), 1921. SATC Records, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

CUA also provided valuable service to the church as the venue for the founding of the National Catholic War Council, forerunner to today’s United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Under the motto of ‘For God and Country’ and ably headed by CUA alumnus and Paulist priest, John Burke, a New York City native and Catholic newspaper editor, the NCWC represented Catholic interests ranging from charity to war before federal and state governments as well as secular and other religious organizations. By war’s end, some 800 CUA alumni and students had served in the military, with fifteen making the ultimate sacrifice, including Edward L. Killion, editor of the Cardinal Yearbook’s first issue in 1916. Additionally, more than 50 priest alumni had served as chaplains, probably the most famous being Francis P. Duffy of the famous ‘Fighting Sixty-ninth.’ The University’s postwar efforts included a rehabilitation school for wounded soldiers, administration of the Knights of Columbus Scholarships for ex-service men, and a 1922 campus memorial to honor CUA’s fallen

Image showing the list war dead from CUA’s campus memorial taken from a 1920s CUA View Book, University Photograph Collection, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

For more on CUA’s collections relating to the war please see the ‘Chronicling the U.S. Catholic Experience in the First World War’ web site.


¹Correspondence Files, CUA Rector-President Records, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

²C. Joseph Nuesse. The Catholic University of America: A Centennial History. Washington, D.C.: CUA Press, 1990, pp. 176-177.

The Archivist’s Nook: Birds of a Feather – THE CARDINAL’s Early Years

The Cardinal’s first volume, campus scene, p. 7. American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

The Cardinal, the aptly named annual yearbook of The Catholic University of America (CUA), recently celebrated its centenary of publication. Volumes are available online as a digital collection of the American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives, which also preserves print copies. As we approach another centenary, American entrance into the First World War, we thought it appropriate to examine the early years of The Cardinal for a window on the bygone campus life of that prewar era.

Although CUA first opened its doors to students in 1889, it did not have a student produced annual yearbook, The Cardinal, until 1916, the eve of American entry into the First World War. This was primarily due to Catholic University originating as an institution of graduate education and research focusing on clerics. However, facing dire financial insecurity as the twentieth century dawned, CUA acted to increase its funding potential by admitting the first male undergraduates in 1904.¹

The Class of 1916 proudly stands for The Cardinal, 1916, p. 38. American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

In the years after 1904, CUA’s growing student population² repeatedly expressed the desire for a yearbook but it took the Class of 1916 to make the yearbook, The Cardinal, a reality.  Thomas E. Stone was the original editor, William J. Coughlin business manager, and Noel John Deisch art editor. The remaining Cardinal staff included James G. Kelly secretary; Gregor H. Heine, John A Bond, and Joseph A. Murphy assistant art editors; Paul R. Burke assistant business manager; James J. Conlin athletics editor; Charles F. McGovern societies editor; and Paul J. Fitzpatrick as historian. Star athlete Edward L. Killion later replaced Stone as editor, though the latter remained a contributor.

The Cardinal staff, 1916, p. 268. American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

The original dimensions of the Cardinal were about 8.5 by 10.5 inches and 240 pages, a format it has generally maintained, with a few notable exceptions, into the twenty-first century. Original features, many of which have endured through the years, included sections on the faculty, classes (seniors, juniors, sophomores, and freshmen), athletics, societies, campus publications, follies, and advertisements. A major highlight then and now are the myriad photographs depicting people, events, and the campus grounds. After only two volumes, 1916 and 1917, the pressures of the First World War, with the majority of young men in military service rather than college, forced The Cardinal on hiatus until 1919 when annual publication resumed.

The Cardinal, 1917, p. 9, themed for the world war. American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

The generation of CUA alumni and students called to service in World War I³, like their brethren on both side of the Atlantic, sacrificed their best and brightest, most notably 1916 Cardinal editor, Edward L. Killion, a captain in the 79th Infantry Division who later died of wounds bravely received at Montfaucon during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive of October 1918. After the war, CUA would honor its fallen heroes. At Commencement in 1919 the athletic grounds, then located on the present site of Curley Hall, were renamed after Killion, and in 1922 a memorial to all fifteen members of the CUA honor roll was erected on campus. The Second World War forced another publication cessation in 1944-1947 though otherwise there has been a new annual volume of The Cardinal into the twenty first century.


¹See the delightful account of one of the first undergraduates in Frank Kuntz. Undergraduate Days 1904-1908 The Catholic University of America. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1958. Also, the complicated story of the gradual admission of women to CUA after 1911 is for a future blog post.

²For the 1903-1904 academic year, there were 91 students (60 clerical, 31 lay). This rose to 224 (124 clerical, 100 lay) in 1907-1908; 370 (102 clerical, 268 lay) in 1911-1912; and 557 (147 clerical, 410 lay) in 1915-1916, Annual Reports of the Rector of CUA.

³Our November 11, 2015 blog post, For God and Country, discusses the American Catholic war effort overall, including CUA.