Our History

Faith in Motion

Father Francis Clement Kelley organized Catholic Extension to bring Church to Catholics in frontier America
Father Francis Clement Kelley organized Catholic Extension to bring Church to Catholics in frontier America.

During his travels to frontier America, Father Francis Clement Kelley recognized that Catholics in geographically isolated areas did not have access to church buildings, or the regular presence of Catholic priests. Without weekly Mass or the sacraments, Catholics in these areas had little participation in the life of the church, and struggled to keep their faith alive and growing.

In 1905, Father Kelley organized the Catholic Church Extension Society—now recognized as Catholic Extension—to raise money that would help bring the Catholic Church to these isolated faith communities. Originally headquartered in Lapeer, Michigan, the Catholic Church Extension Society was granted a charter by the state, highlighting a mission to construct church buildings, support priests, and develop the missionary spirit in Catholics across the United States.

This mission first travelled across the country by way of the railways. Priests rode into tiny frontier towns to celebrate Mass and distribute the Eucharist from the back of Catholic Extension’s three rail cars. In places inaccessible by this mode of transportation, Catholic Extension sent motor chapels.

In 1907, Catholic Extension moved its headquarters to Chicago, Illinois, where it still exists today. It was here that Father Kelley started the quarterly publication Extension magazine, raising awareness for his mission by telling the stories of the vibrant, faith-filled Catholics he had met across the United States.

Catholic Extension began on the railways. Priests would say Mass and distribute the Eucharist from the back of train cars
Catholic Extension began on the railways. Priests would say Mass and distribute the Eucharist from the back of train cars.

That same year, Catholic Extension received its first papal approval by an Apostolic Letter of Pope Pius X. In 1910, the Pope raised Catholic Extension to the dignity of a canonical institution directly under his own guidance and protection. As a Papal Society, Catholic Extension's president is appointed by the Pope himself.

For decades, Catholic Extension has partnered with generous donors, providing funding to grow the Catholic Church in poor mission dioceses. In 1977, Catholic Extension began recognizing the hidden heroes within mission dioceses whose service makes this growth possible. The annual Lumen Christi ("Light of Christ") Award was established as a signature honor to celebrate individuals or groups in these dioceses who shine the light of Christ on their faith communities.

The Mission Continues

Since 1905, Catholic Extension has contributed more than $500 million to the 91 poor mission dioceses across the United States—dioceses where the faith is thriving but the resources are scarce. Today we continue the mission started by Father Kelley—though the ways we serve have multiplied to meet the changing needs of the Church.

Today, Catholic Extension’s support reaches over 11 million Catholics in poor mission dioceses across the U.S.
Today, Catholic Extension’s support reaches over 11 million Catholics in poor mission dioceses across the U.S.

Under the leadership of Catholic Extension President Father Jack Wall, we're providing funding to strengthen and support poor mission dioceses in the United States so they can become self sustaining. We're helping faith communities meet their challenges by investing in their people, infrastructure and ministries. We've also developed a new way to maximize donor dollars through our Strategic Initiatives in 2011. These initiatives and partnerships with our donors, leading Catholic organizations and the mission dioceses themselves, are designed to further help these dioceses meet the unique needs of their faith communities. They allow us to multiply the impact of our donor's gifts while providing the opportunity for dioceses to access top-level programs that would otherwise be outside their financial capacity.

In the coming years, Catholic Extension will continue to be guided by the stories of the 11 million faith-filled Catholics in our country's poor mission dioceses. And with the generous gifts from our donors, we'll help these Catholics unleash a rich faith that transforms hearts, lives and entire societies.

Partner with us and help us write the next chapter of Catholic Extensions history. Walk with us on a mission to build faith, inspire hope and ignite change throughout our great land.