Father Francis Kelley from Lapeer, Michigan, first envisioned Catholic Extension in 1905. Through his travels, he discovered places and communities that were struggling to keep the Catholic faith alive and growing. The Archbishop of Chicago, James Edward Quigley, agreed to help Father Kelley launch this new organization. As a result, the Catholic Church Extension Society was organized on October 18, 1905. Temporary headquarters were established in Lapeer, Michigan, where a charter was granted to the society by the State of Michigan on December 25, 1905.

The mission of the organization granted by the charter was:

  • To develop the missionary spirit in the clergy and people of the Catholic Church in the United States.
  • To assist in the erection of parish buildings for poor and needy places.
  • To support priests for neglected or poverty-stricken districts.
  • To send the comfort of religion to pioneer localities.

In January 1907, society headquarters were moved to Chicago, Illinois, and the president was transferred to that archdiocese. In April 1906, the society began the publication of a quarterly bulletin called Extension. In May 1907, this quarterly was enlarged and changed into a monthly bulletin. Extension is now a magazine issued once a quarter featuring stories about the infrastructure, people and ministries that Catholic Extension supports.

On June 7, 1907, Catholic Extension received its first papal approval by an Apostolic Letter of Pope Pius X addressed to the Archbishop of Chicago. Almost exactly three years later, on June 9, 1910, the Pope issued a special brief by which the society was raised to the dignity of a canonical institution directly under his own guidance and protection. By the terms of this brief, the Archbishop of Chicago will always remain chancellor of the Society, and the president must be appointed by the Pope himself. The President’s term of office is not more than five years. The board of governors has the right to propose three names to the Holy See for this office, and to elect, according to their laws, all other officers of the society. The current President of Catholic Extension, appointed in 2007, is Father Jack Wall.

In addition to the thousands of grants Catholic Extension provides every year to poor mission dioceses across America, the society established an annual award in 1977. The Lumen Christi (“Light of Christ”) Award is signature honor given by Catholic Extension to an outstanding individual who has shown a special dedication to serving people in his or her mission diocese. Recipients receive financial support from Catholic Extension for their ministries and their dioceses to continue their notable efforts in building faith, inspiring hope and igniting change.