Publication of Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Publication of The Catholic Encyclopedia: An International Work of Reference on the Constitution, Doctrine, Discipline, and History of the Catholic Church was a milestone in history: For the first time, members of the Catholic hierarchy produced an officially sanctioned English-language reference source that added the Roman Catholic perspective to a substantial number of topics.

Summary of Event

In June of 1902, Father John J. Wynne published a lengthy review titled “Poisoning the Wells” in the Catholic newspaper the Messenger. In the article, Wynne condemned portions of the revised edition of Appleton’s Universal Cyclopaedia and Atlas (1903) and called for changing its inaccurate, deficient, and derogatory information on the Catholic Church. Over the next two years, this criticism prompted editors of several general encyclopedias to make additional adjustments to works that were under revision, but the modifications failed to meet Catholic needs. In 1903 and 1904, Father Wynne and several of his contemporaries realized that there was a great lack of writings on Catholicism available in English. The best way to fill this void, they decided, was to create a Catholic encyclopedia. On December 8, 1904, Dr. Charles George Herbermann, the Very Reverend Edward Aloysius Pace, Dr. Condé Benoist Pallen, the Right Reverend Bishop Thomas Joseph Shahan, and the Reverend John J. Wynne agreed to organize the Robert Appleton Company, the exclusive purpose of which would be to publish a Catholic encyclopedia, and to meet early the next year as editors of The Catholic Encyclopedia. Catholic Encyclopedia, The Roman Catholic Church;publications [kw]Publication of The Catholic Encyclopedia (Mar. 19, 1907-Apr., 1914) [kw]Catholic Encyclopedia, Publication of The (Mar. 19, 1907-Apr., 1914) [kw]Encyclopedia, Publication of The Catholic (Mar. 19, 1907-Apr., 1914) Catholic Encyclopedia, The Roman Catholic Church;publications [g]United States;Mar. 19, 1907-Apr., 1914: Publication of The Catholic Encyclopedia[01900] [c]Publishing and journalism;Mar. 19, 1907-Apr., 1914: Publication of The Catholic Encyclopedia[01900] [c]Religion, theology, and ethics;Mar. 19, 1907-Apr., 1914: Publication of The Catholic Encyclopedia[01900] Herbermann, Charles George Wynne, John J. Pace, Edward Aloysius Pallen, Condé Benoist [p]Pallen, Condé Benoist Shahan, Thomas Joseph

On January 11, 1905, Herbermann, Pace, Pallen, and Shahan joined Wynne at his office at the Messenger on New York City’s West Sixteenth Street for their first formal editorial meeting. Sixteen days later, the editors presented an official proposal to New York archbishop John Murphy Farley, who blessed and endorsed the contract on February 25, 1905. On that same day, public announcements in publications such as The New York Times began promoting the encyclopedia. Advance-notice display ads notified the public of the encyclopedia’s production, announced its endorsement by the archbishop, and promoted the archbishop’s enthusiastic support for the work and its editors.

The encyclopedia was to be an original, up-to-date work written with authority and scholarship on all matters pertaining to the Catholic Church and its membership. Contributions were requested from around the world, and writers were chosen based on their expertise. Because the writers were to be authorities on particular subjects, not necessarily experts on writing encyclopedia articles, the editors created standards and guidelines for the contributors to ensure consistency among various subject categories. Submissions written in languages other than English would be translated, doctrinal writings would be scrutinized by approved authorities, and all articles would be assessed by the editors.

The editors divided the work into thirty-two departments, and each editor was assigned to specific areas of management. All decisions regarding content, however, were returned to the entire board. During 1905 and 1906, the editors met bimonthly (after 1906, meetings were held monthly) to discuss the encyclopedia’s design, content, organization, and development. In addition to its text, the encyclopedia would include bibliographies, illustrations, and maps; both the text and maps would be original and include ecclesiastical, geographic, and political regions. Determining the structure and content of the work was important, but the editors also knew that soliciting contributions from the best scholars, publishing the volumes, and carefully promoting sales were essential.

In February, 1906, the editors published a promotional pamphlet that included sample articles outlining the work’s purpose and distinctive qualities. They demonstrated the encyclopedia’s value as a work of serious scholarship and proved its relevance in the international spectrum. Newspaper ads pledged that the encyclopedia would fill a gap in scholarly libraries and offered early subscribers a onetime opportunity to receive a low-cost, deluxe edition with their names included as original sponsors. Later ads announced that the special offer would end on February 4, 1907, but there was still time to join the “cultivated” group who would be listed as “original promoters.” The pamphlet, display ads, and other promotional literature created demand that led to the printing of seven thousand copies of the first volume.

On March 19, 1907, the day the first volume was published, public notices announced the encyclopedia’s release and emphasized its uniqueness, originality, and authenticity. These notices stressed the importance of Catholics in history and underscored the value of the encyclopedia to the general public and professionals. Two volumes were published each year for the next two years, and one volume was published each year from 1910 to 1913. In 1912, the publishers changed the name of their publishing house to the Encyclopedia Press. The encyclopedia’s index volume was added in 1914.

Throughout the encyclopedia’s production, the editors worked to assure excellence. They conducted 134 formal meetings, held several additional informal meetings, and exchanged written correspondence. As each volume was published, display ads and reviews continued to depict the reference work’s high standards and distinctive niche. Quotes from Pope Pius X, Archbishop Farley, judges, and reviewers promoted the work’s value, and the publishers continued to offer opportunities for special purchases. Review articles heralded the encyclopedia as a scholarly, well-written, and well-crafted work that exceeded all expectations.

Promotion of The Catholic Encyclopedia was an essential element of its success, both because it raised sales figures and because it assured the project’s publication. The volumes were produced at a time when few English-language writings were released under the auspices of the Catholic Church and when progressivism and conservatism were in competition in the Church. Pope Pius X strongly opposed Americanism and Modernism and called for stricter adherence to Catholic doctrine. The editors of the encyclopedia needed to balance these guiding principles with more temperate views to create a resource that would be used by a wide audience.

Anti-Catholic attitudes, ecclesiastic beliefs, and the strains of World War I all had impacts on the encyclopedia, but the editors did not stop their work. They successfully published a sixteen-volume encyclopedia that included more than thirty thousand subjects, nearly twelve thousand articles, and almost six thousand cross-references. Contributions came from 1,452 authors from forty-three countries, and 151 editorial assistants, 51 translators, and more than 400 business-administration employees were involved in producing the finished work. Although its broad span made some criticism inevitable, for the most part The Catholic Encyclopedia was internationally welcomed as a successful work of scholarship. By 1920, nearly sixty thousand copies had been sold. A single supplemental volume updated the set in 1922.


The Catholic Encyclopedia was primarily an American endeavor created by Catholic scholars whose initiative and perseverance in crafting and editing the massive work filled a major gap in authoritative English-language literature on Catholicism. The editors created a generally fair and just encyclopedia at a time when Catholics had been persecuted and misrepresented for their beliefs and when the Church was tightening its stance on its intellectual philosophy.

For more than fifty years, the encyclopedia was considered to be the most outstanding work on Catholicism in English, but changes and time led to publication of The New Catholic Encyclopedia in 1967. Although the print edition of The Catholic Encyclopedia was superseded by The New Catholic Encyclopedia and its second edition (2002), the original text provides vital historical information that its successors lack. Because many of The Catholic Encyclopedia’s philosophical, theological, biographical, and medieval history articles are still germane today, and because the work’s copyright has passed into the public domain, the text of the original volumes is widely available on the Internet. From 1993 to 1997, Kevin Knight and volunteers from several different countries worked to produce the online version of the encyclopedia, titled New Advent. Catholic Encyclopedia, The Roman Catholic Church;publications

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Brann, Henry A. “Catholic Encyclopedia.” New York Times Saturday Review of Books, April 13, 1907, BR233. This article, written by a priest, reviews and evaluates the encyclopedia in historical context.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">“The Catholic Encyclopedia.” College and Research Library News 58 (December, 1997): 811. Reviews the online encyclopedia and highlights its current value.
  • citation-type="booksimple"


    The Catholic Encyclopedia and Its Makers. New York: Encyclopedia Press, 1917. This volume summarizes the encyclopedia’s creation from 1905 to 1914 and provides biographical sketches of all contributors. Some black-and-white pictures are included.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fox, James J. “The Catholic Encyclopedia.” Catholic World 85 (July, 1907): 522-528. A lengthy review of the encyclopedia.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Johnson, Rossiter. “Completion of The Catholic Encyclopedia.” Literary Digest 46 (February 15, 1913): 349. Examination of the encyclopedia by a noted reviewer of encyclopedias.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Linehan, Paul H. “The Catholic Encyclopedia.” In Catholic Builders of the Nation, edited by Constantine E. McGuire. New York: Catholic Book Company, 1935. Excellent overview of the history and making of the encyclopedia.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Reher, Margaret Mary. Catholic Intellectual Life in America: A Historical Study of Persons and Movements. New York: Macmillan, 1989. An examination of Catholic intellectual life and leadership from 1780 through the mid-1980’s.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rubenstein, Ernest H. “The ’New’ New Catholic Encyclopedia.” Commonweal 131 (October 22, 2004): 22-25. Overview of the second edition of The New Catholic Encyclopedia briefly discusses the previous editions.

Pius X Becomes Pope

Pope Pius X Condemns Slavery

Canonization of Joan of Arc

Canonization of Bernadette Soubirous

Pius XI Urges Resistance Against Nazism

Death of Maria Faustina Kowalska

Pius XII Becomes Pope

Categories: History Content