Beginnings of the Australian YCW

Notes on the beginnings of the Australian YCW by Ted Long (Part I)


1931 – Priests from Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Holland, England, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Lithuania and Canada gathered in Brussels to educate themselves on the essentials of the J.O.C. They set up an international bureau in Brussels. Fr Robert Kothen.

15 September 1937 – A.N.S.C.A. set up by Australian Bishops. Dr Mannix’s view – C.A. means to construct a social and economic order based on the social teaching of the Catholic Church.

1940 – Lombard experiments February 1940 - OCA in Melbourne for 14-18 yr olds.

1941 – Y.C.W. officially took over the Catholic Boys' Legion.

1943 – National launched.

Kevin Kelly – the prophet of the J.O.C. (supported by Paul McGuire).

Pius XI defined C.A. more in line with the basic apostolic nature of the church. A C.A. organisation was to form apostles. Reference to Bayart and his 1935 publication “Specialised Catholic Action”. Confusion in Australia over what is Catholic Action.

28 January 1931 Campion Society formed by 12 men. Kevin Kelly joined Campions 1931. Born 1910. Joined public service in 1928. (Neglected Children’s Section of Chief Secretary’s Department.)

In 1932 Fr Haskett asked K.T. to write an article on Socialisation Objective of the ALP for the French Jesuit Review. (Dossiers de L’action Sociale).

Catholic Library formed 1924. Payment was in French books, including one with an article on the J.O.C. It led to a contact with the Belgian J.O.C. in 1936.

In 1934 Fr Haskett asked Campions to study European Catholic action.

Newman Convention 1934

Kelly & McGuire gave talks on Catholic Action at it. Their talks were the only serious treatment of CA at it. Bishop Barry spoke on C.A. for men, and spoke of sport, charitable organisations etc.

Archbishop Mannix suggested Australian Bishops discuss C.A. in Melbourne in 1934. A Bishops sub-committee – comprising Archbishop Beovich, Bishop Barry and Bishop Dwyer, with Archbishop Mannix as president. Nothing was done for two years.

Kelly in 1934 did not understand the full meaning of the JOC technique of forming apostles through action, and was regarding various organisations as CA with separate means of sanctification. However he and McGuire probably understood CA better than anyone else in Australia at that time.

In 1936 Kevin Kelly started writing to JOC. First to Paris, who referred his letter to Belgian JOC. On 22nd May 1936 Fr Kothen replied, sending literature. Kelly and Kothen corresponded from 1936 to 1940, until Belgium was invaded by German army. After the war they resumed correspondence until Kothen died in 1953. Cardijn had no personal contact with the founding of the YCW in Australia. Kelly received the Manual of JOC and several other publications which he passed on to ANSCA and priests who were discussing or experimenting with youth groups. Kelly wrote to Kothen at length, including his attempts to get JOC technique started in Melbourne and telling of struggle between different youth groups to be accepted as the official youth movement in the archdiocese, and of the handing over of the responsibility for the foundation of the YCW in Melbourne to a group of priests in the middle of 1939.

By 1937 Kelly had grasped the key point of the Jocist idea of division of CA into two groups – militant and the mass. McGuire’s articles in the Advocate in September and October 1937 were very informative on the strategy of the JOC. Kevin Kelly tried to get ANSCA to understand the correct philosophy of the JOC. He became JOC official correspondent of the Belgian JOC in Australia in 1939.

In 1939 ANSCA agreed to setup of a committee to assist in the formation of a young workers movement, with strict guidelines.

In July 1939 Kelly published an ACTS pamphlet entitled The Young Christian Workers.

15,000 copies were sold in six months. Fr Frank Lombard, a young curate at Northcote, must have read it.

Kelly’s pamphlet had articles by Cardijn and by Fr Kothen. Cardijn highlighted the threat of a new paganism, and that the Pope saw Catholic Action as the saviour of the Church from paganism.

Kothen stressed the basis of the YCW in Realism – Idealism – and Action. It was a school, a social service and a representative body. Indispensable role of the clergy, and of organisation. Foresaw the future of an international YCW.

A priests committee had been formed only three weeks before the publication of Kelly’s pamphlet. Kelly involvement ceased with the start of World War II in September 1939.

Christine de Hemptinne of Belgium Association of Catholic Young Women of Belgium had an article published in the Advocate on 10th December 1936. Many good views but some flaws which led to confusion.

In September-October 1937, Paul McGuire, shortly after the Bishops inaugurated Catholic Action, had a series of articles published in the Advocate on the objectives and methods of the JOC as it operated in France. Paul McGuire’s articles resulted from his meeting with Fr Robert Kothen, Cardijns ecclesiastical assistant in 1937 at Oxford. He returned to Australia in 1938, and in conjunction with Fr J. Fitzsimons contributed to a work on Catholic Action entitled ‘Restoring all Things’: it was published in January 1939.

McGuire’s September article said the JOC was for boys between 14 and 25. The book ‘Restoring all Things’ did not clarify Jocism very much. Various contributors were not clear on the Jocist technique and philosophy.

Australian National Secretariat of Catholic Action

ANSCA – Established by bishops on 15th September 1937. Opened its office 4th January 1938. Melbourne-Sydney rivalry arose quickly. Several months after its inception Archbishop Kelly and coadjutor Archbishop Gilroy denied ANSCA access to Sydney Archdiocese. This lasted throughout ANSCAs life. The YCW was never able to start in Sydney until in recent years.

In 1938 ANSCA experimented with a few types of C.A. which were a fusion of local and overseas ideas. That first stage of C.A. ended in February 1939, when the second stage – the implementation of specialised C.A. began.

ANSCA in 1938 had a problem of how to deal with existing organisations of CYMS, Legion of Mary, CBL. It opted for a compromise. Tried to incorporate certain elements of the new C.A. techniques into the old. Not successful. Incorrectly, they started with formation of militant groups, with mass organisation to follow. ANSCAs 1938 pamphlet entitled How to Run a Group showed a concession to Jocist See, Judge and Act, but was not used in the action formation way of the JOC.

STAGE 2 1939

From 20 to 27 February 1939, twenty diocesan organisers and ecclesiastical assistants from fifteen Australian and one New Zealand diocese and the two National Officers, F.K. Murphy and B.A. Santamaria, met for the 1st National Conference of Organisers of Catholic Action. Dominated by clergy – 15 to 5. The Conference recommended ANSCA issue directions for the commencement of youth groups along the lines of the Young Christian Workers Movement. Further, that specialisation should be according to interest.

Seven months after the Conference ANSCA circulated a memorandum justifying the adoption of the principle of specialisation in the organisation of Catholic Action.

Various youth organisations in Melbourne in the 1930’s: Junior Holy Name;

1931: Junior Catholic Sodality of Our Lady (Hawthorn);

1937: St Mary’s, West Melbourne - Catholic Youth Movement (14 – 35);

1933: The Legion of Mary;

1936: Fr Anthony Cleary;

1937: Boys Club Press Squads.

Diocesan Youth Movement

November 1936: Mons. Lonergan, V.G. circulated parish priests asking them to set up the Movement in their parishes. Boys and girls 14 to 21. It began in September 1937. Nine parishes.

C.B.L. Founded in 1931. In 1938, ten CBL clubs.

In 1941 when taken over by the YCW there were 21 parishes represented in the CBL football competition, with at least 1000 members. Fr Lanigan sponsored a savings scheme in 1939. The youth organisations of the 1930’s had in common the idea of providing a Catholic environment for 14 to 18 yr olds.

In late 37-38 Kelly became involved in attempts to implant cells which used Jocist technique in their formation, in the CBL and CYMS.

Dave Nelson and Clifton Hill CBL. Dave, a brewery worker and a Campion, ran a sub-branch of the Campion Society in his Clifton Hill home. An old boy of St Thomas CBC, Dave was invited to speak at a meeting of old boys called by the Principal to discuss boys not attending Mass. He formed a football team and joined the CBL football comp. To play football a boy had to go to Mass. His success prompted Fr Lombard to consult him for ideas in 1939. In 1940, B.A. Santamaria asked him to be the first full-time secretary of the Melbourne YCW. He declined fearing he would not be able to work under Fr Lombard.

In late 1937, Kelly presided over a joint committee comprising representatives of CYMS, CBL, CYMS Legion and the Campion Society. The CYMS Legion (18 to 35) was a Campion-inspired creation of younger CYMS members through which the Campions hoped to transform the CYMS into an adult Mens CA organisation. In 1938 it had units in 23 CYMS branches in Melbourne. The committee mentioned above had in 1938 become a Youth Council. Kelly had the JOC prayer and a system of Jocist enquiries in some CBL meetings.

With Kelly away in New Zealand in Feb/March 1938, Fr Lanigan dismissed the laymen on the CBL Executive, who had been flirting with the JOC, and banned the use of the JOC in the CBL.

When the Priests Committee was formed in mid-1939, Tom Hogan inaugurated the JOC in Oakleigh by turning a CYMS Legion into a YCW. This was the only YCW branch Kelly was involved in, and then only as an inspirer through literature and discussion. The branch did not become the centre for expansion in Melbourne.

The CYMS Legion was sponsored in November 1937. In 1938 its future was threatened by the parent-CYMS fears about specialisation and that the CYMS was in danger of losing its traditional identity. In 1938, CYMS invited an Irish Dominican, Fr A.M. Crofts, to Melbourne, hoping he would help them rewrite their constitution and assist them to be designated Catholic Action. The move did not succeed because the CYMS wanted to continue its general age and occupational range for members.

In addition to trying to implant cells in CBL and CYMS, ANSCA attempted cells in individual parishes by means of a pamphlet called “Your Group”. ANSCA desired to launch the Catholic Youth League at a Rally on 27th February 1939, at the closing of the National Conference of Diocesan Organisers of Catholic Action. That desire prevented Kelly and Tom Hogan preparing to publicly campaign over the Christmas 1938-New Year period for the establishment of the YCW based on the Oakleigh example.

The Catholic Youth League came to nothing because the Conference of Diocesan Organisers resolved in favour of specialisation, and that the YCW should be the model for all youth movements.

As a result, ANSCA convened a meeting on 31st May 1939 to deal with the problem of ‘Workers Organisations’. A poorly prepared agenda and a wide divergence of opinion among those present resulted in a fruitless meeting.

Kelly’s enthusiasm dampened, and in July 1939 he reported to Fr Kothen his disappointment with ANSCA and he was now concentrating on certain priests who are interested in the JOC. At this point Kelly’s active involvement ceases.

Melbourne YCW Priests Committee takes up the initiative. Kelly’s priest friends are Frs Lombard, Ford, Day and Murtagh. They need approval of ANSCA. Into the scene comes Ken Mitchell, Organiser of the Melbourne Diocesan Secretariat of Catholic Action. Melbourne Diocesan Secretariat of Catholic Action existed since January 1939, but Mitchell had special duties until 7th June 1939.

Mitchell met with Ford and Murtagh shortly after taking up duty. They decided to ask Kelly to put down on paper the basic essentials of an authentic YCW. Fr Ford, a Wagga priest, was studying at Melbourne University and resided at St Ambrose, Brunswick. Fr Murtagh was at Brunswick North. Fr Joe McNamara was at Brunswick West, and through him Fr Ford visited Fr Lombard at Northcote. Through this Fr Lombard came into contact with Kevin Kelly.

On 30th June Kelly responded to Mitchell and Ford. He said the Movement

  • an organisation for all young wage earners;
  • age range 12 to 30, divided into junior and senior;
  • parish and class basis;
  • militant meeting weekly; general, monthly.

He proposed the JOC Manual be followed. Oakleigh be the model for senior, and Fr Max Day’s group at Collingwood be the junior model.

On 2nd July 1939 an informal conference of priests was held. Present included Ken Mitchell, Frs Ford, Lombard, Day and Murtagh. No immediate formation.

Will form a priests committee. Each priest will choose from 3 to 8 suitable lads from his parish, with a view to having them militants. In time the priests would appoint a committee of young workers to run the YCW. Also the priests would in due time recommend a chaplain to the Archbishop.

One week later the priests committee, with the Archbishop’s approval, has its first meeting. Kevin Kelly agreed to the plan. He spoke to the priests committee in August 1939. Ford returned to Wagga in 1940. Kelly’s last act was to meet Frs. Ford, Lombard and Fr John F. Kelly on 29th February 1940, and hand over literature received from Fr Kothen over four years. Fr Lombard was appointed chaplain to CBL a few weeks before that. The CBL became the official CA Movement for 14 to 18 year-olds at the same time.

Fr John F. Kelly had become the correspondent for the Belgian YCW, but the occupation of Belgium in 1940 broke that off.

Kelly, after serving in the Army and Navy during the war, reopened correspondence with Fr Kothen in 1945. In 1946 Kelly visited YCW headquarters in Melbourne. He hoped to offer his services to the YCW, but he was not treated with any appreciation of his earlier efforts. He also had come to see (under Kothen who had fallen out with the Belgian JOC) that the Belgian JOC method for the formation of lay apostles was not as fully refined a technique for Catholic action as it seemed at first, although it was more advanced than anything else. Kelly had a talent for gaining a thorough grasp of a topic intellectually.