American Catholics had made their presence known in the White House long before John F. Kennedy moved in. In fact, it was a Catholic architect who designed and built the place.

Pierre Charles L'Enfant, the urban planner who designed the street plan of Washington, D.C., had imagined a palatial residence for the president, five times the size of the current White House. President George Washington thought L'Enfant's design was ostentatious, so he staged a competition in which architects were invited to submit their plans for the president's house. Out of nine submissions, Washington chose the design of James Hoban, a 29-year-old Irish Catholic immigrant. Years later, after British forces burned the White House in 1814, Congress asked Hoban to supervise the mansion's restoration.

The first Catholic ceremony in the White House took place during the administration of President Andrew Jackson. In 1831, President Jackson's ward, Mary Anne Lewis, a Catholic, married a French diplomat, Joseph Pageot.

The wedding ceremony was performed in the White House by Father William Matthews, pastor of St. Patrick's Church in Washington. A year later, Father Matthews returned to the White House to baptize the couple's son, named Andrew Jackson Pageot. During the baptism, when Father Matthews asked the ritual question, "Andrew Jackson, do you renounce Satan?" President Jackson, thinking the priest was addressing him, declared in a loud voice, "I do, most indubitably!"

During Alfred Smith's 1928 run for the presidency, anti-Catholics claimed that if the Catholic Smith were elected, the pope would take up residence in the White House. Al Smith lost the election, and it wasn't until 1979 that the pope finally came to the White House, and that at the invitation of a Baptist couple: President Jimmy Carter and first lady Rosalyn Carter were the first to welcome Pope John Paul II into the Executive Mansion.