See how American Catholics Responded to 1918 Flu vs Coronavirus

Few American organizations have been around long enough to see two pandemics. Catholic Extension, founded in 1905, was on the frontlines of Catholic ministry during the 1918 Spanish Flu. A century later, we are facing another global health crisis. 

The response and circumstances around the coronavirus has been both unique and reminiscent of the past. 

Take a look at how American Catholics have responded to two pandemics, 1918 Flu vs Coronavirus, 102 years apart. 

Stay-at-home Ministry

Catholic leaders change plans to make a difference.

1918 Flu vs Coronavirus, Chapel Cars

THEN: Priests supported by Catholic Extension traveled by rail to minister to Catholics in remote towns. The 1918 Flu stopped the line temporarily.

In the meantime, our founder Francis Clement Kelley used his time to advocate for religious freedom.  

1918 Flu vs Coronavirus, Catholic Sister video chats on her phone

NOW: Ministries that require travel are also postponed. People are meeting online instead. Here, Sister Gaby from our exchange program, ministers through video call.  

Closed Catholic Churches 

The ‘Domestic Church’ thrives, as people practice their faith at home.

1918 Flu vs Coronavirus, newspaper clippings from 1918 showing closed churches

THEN: Churches were closed, like St. Peter Church in Oregon, pictured here. People kept the faith at home until it was safe to meet again.  

Livestream Mass from Home

NOW: Advances in technology allow the faithful to experience Mass online

Sisters on the Frontlines

In times of need, you can count on Catholic sisters.

THEN: Sisters nationwide, including these pictured in San Francisco, took on new roles like making masks. Photo courtesy of Oakland Public Library

NOW: Women religious are leading the way, reaching out to provide basic essentials and spiritual support to those in need. Photo courtesy of sisters we support in the Kalamazoo, Michigan.  

Our founder, Francis Clement Kelley, mused in 1919: 

“What will the historian a century hence have to say of us?”  

Today, we ask the same question. As people of faith, we have a responsibility to stay steadfast in faith, and continue our outreach to the vulnerable. 

In the depths of despair and highs of hope, the Church is there. We are so grateful to all who are supporting the journey. 

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