The History of the Catholic Daughters of the Americas
The Beginning of a New Century and a New Women's Organization
The Catholic Daughters of the Americas (CDA) was founded in Utica, New York in 1903 by John E. Carberry and several other Knights of Columbus as a charitable, benevolent and patriotic sorority for Catholic ladies. It was originally called the "National order of Daughters of Isabella," and
is dedicated to the principles of "Unity and Charity," the order's
motto. They were originally called the national order of the Daughters
of Isabella, and Carberry served as the first Supreme Regent. The
Knights established our two standards of Unity and Charity.
CDA had 90 courts by 1908, and had grown from a membership of less than
100 to more than 10,000. The membership encompassed 69 cities in 18
different states. In March of 1913, the Daughters of Isabella purchased
a building in Utica belonging to the Knights of Columbus for use as its
Catholic Daughters Support the World War I Effort
The Daughters became very involved in overseas duty during World War I.
They acted as nurses, did clerical work, conducted sewing and knitting
classes for the Red Cross, and staged parties to entertain the
servicemen. They also helped the Knights of Columbus raise $3 million
for recreational activities for the enlisted men. When the war ended,
Supreme Regent Genevieve Walsh was named to the newly formed national
Catholic War Council. The CDA was a part of the restoration of the
University of Louvain's ravaged library in Belgium. It was also during
this time that a youth society called "War Service Plan for Girls" was
formed. This group later evolved into the Junior Catholic Daughters.
Expansion and Change
At a biennial convention in 1921,the order changed its name from the
Daughters of Isabella to the Catholic Daughters of America (CDA).
In 1925 the first court outside of the United States was established in
Cuba. It was during this time that the Knights of Columbus severed its
ties with CDA, allowing it to become an independent organization.
In 1926, the national headquarters moved from Utica to its current
location at 10 West 71 Street in New York City. By 1928, the
membership of the CDA had swelled to 170,000 members in courts that
spanned 45 states, Panama, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Canada.
Supreme Regent Mary Duffy led the organization into becoming involved
in community life, social work and services, literary endeavors, and
missionary work. CDA supported the Catholic press, and they protested
against the Oregon Compulsory School Law and the Cummins-Valle Birth
Control Bill. The organization kept a close watch on adverse
legislative matters across the nation, and its members engaged in
legislative discussions. The CDA became associated with the Legion of
Decency and took a public stand against mercy killing (euthanasia).
CDA Patriotism During World War II
CDA contributed money to the war effort during World War II. They bought
war bonds and defense stamps, helped to fund chapels, camps and food
necessities, and provided entertainment for those in the service. The
membership also became involved in making bandages, sewing, conducting
first aid classes and donating blood across the country. The statistics
of the efforts of the CDA are staggering. Various court purchased $1.6
million worth of war bonds, individual members bought $4.7 million and
sold $3 million more to others. More than 8,314 members served as
instructors for the Red Cross, and 15,061 members made four million
surgical dressings. Contributions to the USO exceeded $100,000. During
this time the CDA were still involved in many important issues, such as
juvenile delinquency, democracy, peace, postwar America, labor and the
war, women in industry, help for students in China, racism, the Equal
Rights Amendment, and federalized education.
The 1950's and the "Challenge" by Bishop Fulton J. Sheen
Bishop Fulton J. Sheen addressed the delegates at the 24th Biennial Convention
held in 1952. He said, "You are the Catholic Daughters of America; I
would like you to become Catholic Daughters of the World." He urged the
CDA membership to extend their charity to the needs of the poor and to
the ends of the world.
In 1954, the order changed its name to the Catholic Daughters of the Americas,
with 115,000 Catholic Daughters in the 1,450 local units called
"courts" throughout the United States, Mexico, Dominican Republic,
Puerto Rico, Saipan, Guam, and the Virgin Islands. Its international
headquarters are located in New York City. It donates generously to
several charitable causes, provides scholarships, works with Habitat
for Humanity, and supports the aged and infirm retired Catholic clergy,
and is very pro-life.
"Something Beautiful for God"
Mother Teresa, founder of the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta, spoke to
an audience of Catholic Daughters in October of 1972 in Washington,
D.C. to mark National Catholic Daughters Day. She asked the CDA members
to continue to "give to our brothers and sisters throughout the world
as if once more Jesus had come into the world cold, hungry, and alone."
Through annual donations to the Missionaries of Charity, Mother
Teresa's challenge and that of Bishop Sheen are being met, as we become
"Catholic Daughters of the world."
A History of Support to Priests and to the Church
The Catholic Daughters of the Americas continues to live out its motto of
"Unity and Charity" today. In 1976 CDA presented a bicentennial gift of
$750,000 to the Catholic University of America to establish a Chair in
American Catholic History.
CDA donates generously to the seminary training programs for priests at the
North American College in Rome, and at the American College at the
University of Louvain in Belgium.
In 1990 the bishops approached the organization to take a "leadership
role" in support of the Papal Foundation, citing CDA's committed
support "of the Church at the highest level." The national office gave
a gift of $500,000 to be used by the Holy Father to help Catholic
Churches in Third World countries. John Cardinal O'Connor, Archbishop
of New York, stated in a letter to National Regent Rayola Mclaughlin
that, "The Catholic Daughters has a rich tradition of loyalty and
generosity to the Church. Your willingness to step forward at special
moments of need is well chronicled in the great works you have
accomplished, not only in your parishes but also in your support of the
Since the inception of SOAR! (Support Our Aging Religious!) in 1986, the Catholic
Daughters has been one of its largest supporters providing seed money
to help religious communities with immediate needs such as repairs on
buildings and vans to transport sick and disabled religious.
The Third Millennium
The Catholic Daughters has a continuous working relationship with Habitat
for Humanity International in building affordable housing for the poor.
CDA was one of the first women's organizations to complete a house in
Habitat's seven day "Blitz Build."
In 1997 the Catholic Daughters opened a legislative office in
Washington, D.C. The office gives the CDA its own "listening post" with
ready access to Capital Hill, the United States Conference of Catholic
Bishops. We now can give support to the bishops in areas of concern
such as pro-life issues, domestic policy and social justice matters.
M. Joan McKenna, Immediate Past National Regent, holds observer status
at the NCCB meetings. Grace Rinaldi, Past National Regent, attended the
World Conference on Women held in Beijing, China and has been a part of
a delegation of women in a follow-up study.
The Catholic Daughters of the Americas is a member of the National Council of Catholic Women (NCCW).
The Catholic Daughters of the Americas has nearly 75,000 members in
1,250 courts in the United States, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Guam, and the Virgin
In the gospel for this feast of Christ the King we find our dear National Regent's chosen theme, which in the NAB translation used at Mass reads: "whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me."