Catholic immigration

The story of Roman Catholicism in the nineteenth century IS the story of immigration. Until about 1845, the Roman Catholic population of the United States was a small minority of mostly English Catholics, who were often quite socially accomplished. But when several years of devastating potato famine led millions of Irish Catholics to flee to the United States in the mid-1840s, the face of American Catholicism began to change drastically and permanently. In the space of fifty years, the Catholic population in the United States suddenly transformed from a tight-knit group of landowning, educated aristocrats into an incredibly diverse mass of urban and rural immigrants who came from many different countries, spoke different languages, held different social statuses, and emphasized different parts of their Catholic heritage.

Many members of other faithsJews, Protestants, and even some Muslims, Hindus and Buddhistsarrived in the successive waves of massive immigration to the United States between the 1840s and 1920s. But Catholics from various countries were the most numerousand the most noticed. In 1850 Catholics made up only 5 percent of the total U.S. population. By 1906, they made up 17 percent of the total population (14 million out of 82 million people)and constituted the single largest religious denomination in the country.