Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/American Federation of Catholic Societies

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Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), Volume 14
American Federation of Catholic Societies

by Andrew Alphonsus MacErlean


An organization of the Catholic laity, parishes, and societies under the guidance of the hierarchy, to protect and advance their religious, civil, and social interests. It does not destroy the autonomy of any society or interfere with its activities, but seeks to unite all of them for purposes of co-operation and economy of forces. It is not a political organization, neither does it ask any privileges or favours for Catholics. The principal object of the Federation is to encourage (1) the Christian education of youth; (2) the correction of error and exposure of falsehood and injustice; the destruction of bigotry; the placing of Catholics and the Church in their true light, thus removing the obstacles that have hitherto impeded their progress; (3) the infusion of Christian principles into public and social life, by combatting the errors threatening to undermine the foundations of civil society, notably socialism, divorce, dishonesty in business, and corruption in politics and positions of public trust. The first organization to inaugurate the movement for a concerted action of the societies of Catholic laymen was the Knights of St. John. At their annual meeting held at Cleveland in 1899 they resolved to unite the efforts of their local commanderies. In 1900 at Philadelphia they discussed the question of a federation of all the Catholic societies. As a result a convention was held on 10 Dec., 1901, at Cincinnati, under the presidency of Mr. H.J. Fries. Two hundred and fifty delegates were present under the guidance of Bishop McFaul of Trenton, Bishop Messmer of Green Bay, now Archbishop of Milwaukee, the principal factors in the organization of the movement, Archbishop Elder of Cincinnati, Bishop Horstmann of Cleveland, and Bishop Maes of Covington. A charter bond was framed and the Federation formally established, with Mr. T.B. Minahan as its first president. Since then annual conventions have been held. The Federation represents close to two million Catholics. It has been approved by Popes Leo XIII and Pius X, and practically all the hierarchy of the country. The fruits of the labours of the organization have been manifold; among other things it has helped to obtain a fair settlement of the disputes concerning the church property in the Philippines, permission for the celebration of Mass in the navy-yards, prisons, reform schools; assistance for the Catholic Indian schools and negro missions; the withdrawal and prohibition of indecent plays and post-cards. It has prevented the enactment of laws inimical to Catholic interests in several state legislatures. One of its chief works has been the uniting of the Catholics of different nationalities, and harmonizing their efforts for self-protection and improvement. It publishes a monthly Bulletin, which contains valuable social studies. The national secretary is Mr. Anthony Matré, Victoria Building, St. Louis, Missouri.

MATRE, Hist. of the Feder. of Cath. Soc. in The Catholic Columbian (Columbus, Ohio, 18 Aug., 1911); MCFAUL, The Amer. Feder. of Cath. Soc. (Cincinnati, 1911).

A. A. MacErlean.