Washington DC


A few notable characters founded Catholicism in Washington, DC. Bishop John Carroll was the first Bishop of the United States. He was a patriot during the Revolutionary war. Further, Bishop Carroll selected Dominican priest Fr. Anthony Caffry as pastor of the first Catholic church in Washington, DC. This parish primarily served Irish immigrants working on the White House’s development. Uniquely, the first American ordained priest became pastor of St. Patrick’s in 1804. 

Father England

Father John England is one of the most significant figures in the history of Catholicism in Washington, DC. He was an Irish-born priest who served as the first Bishop of Charleston. Further, Fr. England played a crucial role in establishing the Catholic Church in Washington, DC. Fr. England made great efforts to establish the first Catholic schools and churches in the city. He also worked to promote religious tolerance and freedom.

Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange

Another important figure in the history of Catholicism in Washington DC was Servant of God Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange. It is unclear whether Mother Lange was born in Haiti or Cuba. She did eventually immigrate to the United States and settled in Baltimore. Mother Mary Elizabeth founded the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the first order of religious sisters for African American women. Mother Mary Elizabeth established schools and orphanages for African American children in Washington, DC. Notably, in 1991, Archbishop Keeler of Baltimore, now Cardinal Keeler, officially opened an investigation into her life. Depending on that investigation, her cause for canonization may move forward. 

Today, the Catholic Church remains an integral part of Washington, DC’s religious landscape. Moreover, the Archdiocese of Washington is still active. There are dozens of Catholic churches and schools throughout the city. The Catholic community continues to be a vital part of the city’s history and culture. Some of the most active Catholic institutions in Washington, DC, include the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington and the Catholic University of America. These institutions provide a wide range of services to the community and are an essential part of the church’s mission to serve others.

Notable Facts

Some other notable Catholic institutions and public figures from Washington DC include:

  • The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception: This magnificent basilica is the largest Catholic church in the United States and a popular destination for pilgrims from around the world. It is located on the Catholic University of America campus, and it is a beautiful example of Gothic Revival architecture.
  • The Catholic Standard: The Catholic Standard is the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington and is one of the oldest Catholic newspapers in the United States. It provides news and information about the Catholic Church in Washington, DC, and it is an essential source of information for the local Catholic community.
  • The Catholic Campaign for Human Development: The Catholic Campaign for Human Development is a national organization that addresses the root causes of poverty in the United States. It provides grants to community organizations that are working to promote economic justice and empowerment, and it is an essential part of the Catholic Church’s commitment to social justice.


Washington, DC, has a vibrant and active Catholic community. Many Catholic institutions and public figures in the city are making a positive impact on the lives of the people who live there and across the nation.

For more information on vibrant Catholic organizations, see our organization directory.

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