The founders of The Catholic University of America considered a museum so essential to the instruction of clergy and laity that they accepted a collection of fossils and minerals only weeks after the designation of Washington as the site of Catholic University in 1885. Immediately after the university opened, the museum held its first public exhibition in Caldwell Hall. Such resolve attracted donors who also believed museums as integral as laboratories or libraries to the intellectual life of a university. A small and determined staff maintained these collections and displayed them in McMahon Hall, where they remained for many years. After a fire in 1933, the university struggled to sustain the museum and its holdings which, at that time, consisted of more than 8,000 objects.

Museum Collection in McMahon Hall, ca. 1920
Museum Collection in McMahon Hall, ca. 1920 (c) Department of Archives, Manuscripts, and Museum Collections, The Catholic University of America

By 1950, Catholic University had transferred its museum holdings to other libraries and museums, retaining only parts of the collection which were distributed throughout the university or put into storage. Since that time, Catholic University has accepted a small number of artifacts as part of its manuscript collections along with paintings, sculptures, and other objects from individual donors. In 1976, responsibility for the museum was taken up by ACUA (known at the time as the Department of Archives & Manuscripts) and some work was done to administer the collections. However, it was not until 1994 that a project to establish a comprehensive and descriptive catalog of the entire museum collection was undertaken. The purpose of this project was to reevaluate the collections and to reestablish the University Museum on campus for exhibition and instruction. The basic catalog has been completed but it is being revised and refined while the number of exhibits is continuing to grow.

The museum collection today includes art works and artifacts representing different periods and genres, totaling over 5,000 pieces. The collection is broken into three main categories: Art and Artifacts, History, and Anthropology.

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Art and Artifacts

  1. Paintings dating from the 16th century (16th - 17th century).
  2. Large carved statues and terra cotta works from China, Japan, France, and Italy (13th - 17th century).
  3. Carved ivories, statues, shrines, diptychs, and triptychs (16th - 19th century Europe).
  4. Asian objets d'art, such as vases, urns, and plates (16th - 20th century).
  5. Coin collection from the Classical world, Ancient Near East, and Europe (400 B.C. - 20th century).
  6. Prints, lithographs, and engravings: varied prints (18th - 20th century).
  7. Modern works by Gene Davis, I. Rice Pereira, Steven Saklarian, and others.
  8. Varied decorative arts, and Asian and European furniture.


  1. Portraits and busts of important American and religious figures and those who played important roles in the development of Catholic University.
  2. Artifacts relating to the founding and the history of the university.
  3. Catholic devotional and liturgical objects from Europe and America (19th - early 20th century).


  1. Archaeological artifacts from the Ancient Near East and the Classical and pre-Columbian world (2000 B.C. - A.D. 200).
  2. Implements, pottery, and other artifacts from Native Americans of North America; People of South, Central, and Latin America; and People of Africa, Polynesia, and the Philippines (18th - early 20th century).
  3. Ethnographic and archeological artifacts from Samoa, Africa, the Philippines, and North America (19th - 20th century).
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Major Collectors

There are many donators that are represented within the museum collections, but several collectors gave substantial amounts which have greatly influenced the character of the collection. Below are brief descriptions of the museum's best known benefactors.

Rev. Arthur T. Connolly

Connolly took time away from his parish to quench his thirst for knowledge through his travels. In addition to visits to every region of the United States, he went to Europe five times and parts of South and Central America. These sojourns helped him become an expert in rare books and art, as reflected in his purchase of fifteenth and sixteenth century books and manuscripts, ivories, engravings, and oil paintings.

In addition to the material Connolly acquired for his working library, he collected printed books and manuscripts from the fifteenth to the sixteenth centuries. It is impossible to know Connolly's intentions as he began to collect, but over time he certainly regarded his collections as important educational resources for Catholics. In 1917, Connolly began to send boxes of books and art to Catholic University librarians and curators. Within ten years, Connolly sent 16,000 books, including eleven fifteenth century manuscripts, seventy ivories, engravings, and paintings to Catholic University. When he died in 1932, Boston College received the balance of his holdings, including 4,000 volumes of Irish literature.

For more information on A.T. Connolly see the description in the Manuscript Collections Description page:
A.T. Connolly Manuscript Collection.

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Monsignor John Montgomery Cooper

Cooper, Catholic University professor of anthropology, achieved distinction as both a priest and scientist. He collected objects from native peoples in Canada, the Philippines, and Africa to provide ethnological data for his students. Though a fledgling profession during the 1920s and 1930s, anthropology offered Monsignor Cooper manifold opportunities to teach the scientific method to Catholics and increase their numbers in the scientific professions. Catholic University recognized the importance of Cooper's work by establishing the Department of Anthropology and appointing him professor and chair of anthropology in 1928. Between 1925 and 1940, Cooper took thirteen field trips to study the Native American tribes.

Cooper regarded his museum collection as essential to the study of anthropology, because these objects provided Catholic University students with hard evidence of the activities of nonliterate peoples. Students did not have access to this large collection of objects at Catholic University for long. Following the closing of the museum, the Smithsonian Institution accepted the bulk of the Cooper Collection, while Catholic University did retain some of the artifacts. Cooper's collection includes artifacts collected during his own field work.

For more information on Cooper see the description in the Manuscript Collections Description page:
Cooper Manuscript Collection.

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Professor Henri Hyvernat

Hyvernat was a professor at the university from its beginning. He taught biblical archeology but had an interest in Oriental philology as well. His collection was begun to instruct students in lectures and included Oriental manuscripts, cuneiform tablets, Babylonian seals, coins, and other items used to illustrate the history of the East in both ancient and modern times.

The Hyvernat collection is divided between the Department of Archives, Manuscripts, and Museum Collections and the Department of Semitic and Egyptian Languages and Literatures and the Institute of Christian Oriental Research (ICOR).

For more information on Hyvernat see the description in the Manuscript Collections Description page:
Hyvernat Manuscript Collection.

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Rev. E.W.J. Lindesmith

Lindesmith played an active role in the expansion of the United States. Stationed at Fort Keogh in Montana until 1892, Lindesmith embraced his mission to provide spiritual guidance to the soldiers who fought the Indian Wars.

The Lindesmith Collection represents the culmination of Lindesmith's missionary activities. Throughout his life, he taught his faith not merely by interpreting the Gospel but also through his example. Lindesmith assembled his collection in the hope that his experiences would serve as a good example of a 19th century life for Americans of the 20th century. He recognized that each object told a piece of that story. In fact, he explained the importance of many of his objects, often in anecdotes which read like parables. Some items in his collection are Sioux and Cheyenne weapons, saddles, rifles, swords, beaded work, and medicine sticks.
For more information on Lindesmith see the description in the Manuscript Collections Description page: Lindesmith Manuscript Collection.

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Rev. James A. Magner

Magner was an administrator and instructor at the university for many years. In addition to these tasks he was an avid collector, traveler and even an amateur painter. He was especially interested in religious and latin american art, artifacts and people.

The Magner estate was donated to the university in 1995 and contains books (divided between the regular collection and the Rare Books Collection), his manuscript collection (housed in the Archives' Manuscript Collections), and museum items. His museum collection comprises almost half of the university's museum collection. The items range from art and artifacts to furniture, covering antique to modern periods.

For more information on Magner see the description in the Manuscript Collections Description page: Magner Manuscript Collection.

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