History of Catholic Schools - Faithful Beginnings

History of Catholic Schools

Built by immigrants and bolstered by modern-day saints, Catholic schools have a long history of success.


The first Catholic school in America opened in Philadelphia in 1783. Throughout the 19th century, the indispensable efforts of Catholic priests and nuns contributed to the creation of many Catholic schools across America. But the Catholic school system as we know it today can be mostly attributed to the grit, determination and sacrifice of a flood of Catholic immigrants who entered the United States in the late 19th century.

In an attempt to preserve and pass along their faith to their children, these Catholics built their elementary schools and paid Catholic sisters to teach in them. By 1920, 6,551 Catholic elementary schools enrolled 1.8 million students taught by 42,000 teachers. Enrollment continued to climb reaching an all-time high of 4.5 million students by the mid- 1960s.

Catholic education is an important part of educational history in America — of which we should be proud. Today our Catholic schools comprise the largest parochial school system in the world. As we recommit to the future and work together to keep our Catholic schools strong and accessible for generations to come, we invite you to join us on the journey by choosing Catholic schools for your child.

“I know that our Catholic schools are excellent. They’re centers of excellence.”

– Bernard A. Hebda, Archbishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis

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