Catholic Action and Vocations…

A fear, which has been expressed, that “Catholic Action” may hinder vocations to the religious state is considered in the following article by Rev. W. P. Hackett, SJ., ecclesiastical assistant to the National Secretariat of Catholic Action. Fr. Hackett shows that, far from hindering vocations, the lay apostolate, as the Holy Father has remarked, has proved a fruitful seed plot for vocations.

P EOPLE sometimes feel a little uneasy about modern movements— such as the Grail, the. J.O.C., the Rural Movement and other Catholic Action bodies. They fear that these new developments may hinder vocations.

In fact, some people here in Melbourne have told me quite definitely that seminaries and religious Orders, particularly Orders of nuns, were suffering. I am glad to be able to reassure such people.

Both here and elsewhere these movements have fostered vocations. In fact, some of the results are startling. It must be very consoling to the Sovereign Pontiffs to know that not merely are the laity helped by these movements, but, as a result, the number of vocations has enormously increased.

It is interesting to note that the Holy Father himself foresaw this result, and used it as an argument for a more general adoption of Catholic Action.


“And here,” he declares, “Our thoughts turn gladly to that Catholic Action so much desired and promoted and defended by Us. For by Catholic Action the laity share in the Hierarchical Apostolate of the Church, and hence it cannot neglect this vital problem of priestly • vocations.

Comfort has filled Our heart to see the associates of Catholic Action everywhere distinguishing themselves in all fields of Christian activity, but especially in this. Certainly the richest reward of such activity is that really wonderful number of priestly and religious vocations, which continue to flourish in their organisations for the young.

This shows that these organisations are both a fruitful ground of virtue and also a well-guarded and well-cultivated nursery, where the most beautiful and delicate flower may develop without danger. May all members of Catholic Action feel the honour which thus falls on their association.

Let them be persuaded that in no better way than by this work for an increase in the ranks of the secular and regular clergy can the Catholic laity really participate in the high’ dignity of the’ ‘kingly priesthood,’ which the Prince of the Apostles attributes to the whole body of the redeemed.” No one who fully understands Catholic Action is surprised. If you explain

the full beauty of the Apostolate and the priesthood to able young men it is but natural that many, aroused by the wonder of participating to some degree in the Apostolate and sharing in the royal priesthood, will be eager to become full apostles and to become candidates for the full priesthood.

This wave of vocations is found in many places simultaneously. From the early days of the J.O.C. and similar organisations there were numerous vocations. It was not long before the J.O.C. was being assisted by chaplains who had themselves been, once upon a time, workers in these young workers’ movements. Similarly, from the Women’s Youth Federations and other girls’ organisations, such as the Grail, there came a splendid increase in vocations to women’s communities.


Perhaps the most striking development has been in Spain. The following extract from the “Catholic Herald,” February 6, 1942, shows that “more than 1000 of the 100,000 members of the Juvantud Catholica, the Catholic Young Men’s Organisation of Spain, have entered the seminary within the last two years. Among them is Manual Aporici, who for seven years has acted as national president of the youth groupings.”

Of the 1000, the majority are aspirants to the diocesan clergy. In this way will be carried out the idea of Angel Herrera, Catholic Actionist and journalist, who gave up his career to become a priest.

“Catholic Action will only then be properly understood when it has as ecclesiastical assistants priests who themselves have worked in the ranks of Catholic Action.” Here in Australia, though Catholic Action is still in its infancy, there have been many vocations. A large number of former members of the Campion Society have either been ordained or are studying for the priesthood.

The present chaplain of the Campion Society in Melbourne is a former Campion member, the Rev. Vincent Long, O.F.M. In one year alone six members of the Campion Society in Sydney left to take up religious life. Several of those who attended the Quests at “Tay Creggan” have already joined religious Orders; others have enrolled themselves in the ranks of the Grail.

This is good news, and a movement which produces such results is obviously a valuable one. When a Pope speaks about Catholic Action as Pius XI. did—”not without inspiration,” he says more than once—we others must take notice. Moreover, if we apply the test Our Lord gives, “By their fruits ye shall know them,” we must take even more notice.


Amazing and widespread as this byproduct of Catholic Action is—for its main work is to influence the laity themselves—no one need be surprised. One of the chief means used by Catholic Action is to get people of all sorts to appreciate all the splendour and reality of Christ’s kingdom.

It is no wonder that this fuller realisation produces such striking results. Apart from these considerations, it must be obvious to every thinking Catholic that the hold we have on the principles of religion should be tighter than ever before.

Mere passive acceptance of religion is not enough. Indeed it is a negation of true religion, which is meant to be dynamic, to do things, to help others, to give service, to perform the various works of mercy. When we see concerted action being taken to draw the youth away from the Church we must make greater efforts than ever to safeguard our youth, which is coming into maturity in the midst of a cataclysm.

Everyone, priest or layman, who would not give ready obedience to the words of command issued from the Vatican incurs a tremendous responsibility. Yet some people allow doubts about the meaning or methods of Catholic Action to produce partial or total paralysis. They neither do anything, nor encourage others to do anything.

If only they grasp the fact that a movement which produces so many vocations must be, in some special way, blessed by God, good results should follow even in places where hitherto no massed movement of Catholic Action has been set on foot. In Australia in the past few years the inspiration of priests, the energy of laymen, have given rise—under the direct leadership of the Bishops—to a number of flourishing organisations of Catholic Action.

These have not sought publicity because they wished first to test their methods and lay sound foundations; consequently, the Catholic public does not fully appreciate what is being done.


Now there is for all farmers the National Catholic Rural Movement; for all girls the National Catholic Girls’ Movement; for all young workers the Young Christian Workers; for adult workers the Nationaf Christian Workers’ Movement; for students in colleges, the Young Catholic Students’ Movement— and so on.

There are few members of the Catholic community for whom an appropriate organisation does not exist or is not being built up. All these are capable of enormous expansion; all have programmes and other literature available for those who wish to join them; all offer magnificent opportunities for apostolic energy.

Information about these movements will be sent to anyone who applies to the Australian National Secretariat of Catholic Action, 379 Collins-street, Melbourne, or to any of the diocesan organisers in the various dioceses.

The lay leaders of these movements are themselves well aware of the need to stimulate vocations among their members and take every opportunity in this direction. At meetings, and during retreats, arranged for Catholic Action bodies, priests are able to depict the beauty and dignity of religious life to highly sympathetic auditors.

Thus the words of the late Holy Father, spoken in a Consistorial Allocution nearly ten years ago, hold true of Australia to-day: “On this Catholic Action, God Himself, by sure signs and in proof of His approbation and love, has seemed to bestow a sweet smile, since in its midst —that is to say, among its different organisations, to which we are -becoming more and more attached—He has mysteriously and abundantly sown the choice seeds of eccfe^iastical vocations.”



William Hackett SJ, Catholic Action and Vocations... (Advocate, Thursday 3 September 1942, page 21) (Trove)

Growth of Australian Catholic Action

Here, in a digest of the second part of Rev. J. G. Murtagh’s recent article in the New York “Commonweal on “Australia Comes of Age,” is a lively sketch of the growth of Catholic Action in Australia, particularly as seen in the Campion and affiliated societies in Melbourne. At the risk of embarrassing certain modest Catholic laymen well known to many of our readers, Fr. Murtagh’s quick pen-pictures, drawn for readers in the United States, are reproduced in condensed form. Fr. Murtagh, assistant editor of “The Advocate,” is at present studying at the Catholic University, Washington, D.C., U.S.A.

THE International Eucharistic Congress, held in Sydney in 1928, was followed in the ‘thirties by a remarkable outburst of ecclesiastical and lay initiative, which reached its climax in the midst of war, with the recent announcement by the Hierarchy of the unification of Catholic Action in the Commonwealth.

The lay movement had its origins in the Campion Society, founded in Melbourne in 1931 by a young lawyer as an educational and cultural discussion group movement for university graduates and undergraduates.

Following an historical approach, the society was deeply influenced by Belloc and Dawson and expanded in a three years informal group life of reading and discussion over the general field of Catholic literature.

The centre of the movement was the Melbourne Catholic Library (30,000 volumes), which is situated in the heart of downtown, with a cafe nearby and a hotel around the corner. The society was a seeding ground for lay apostles and soon began to flower.

One group formed a branch of the Catholic Evidence Guild. Others began writing for the press and speaking for the Catholic Hour broadcast.

Another group founded the Australian “Catholic Worker,” while the debating halls of Australian universities, too, echoed to the Chester-Belloc dialectic, for from ’32 to ’37 Campion men captained the Melbourne ‘Varsity debating teams. In their visits to the various capital cities, they discovered other groups of young Catholics beginning to shoulder the troubles of the world, notably the Catholic Guild of Social Studies in Adelaide.


In 1934, at the National Eucharistic Congress in Melbourne, a conference was called of student bodies from all (States of the Commonwealth. Appropriately, the theme of the Congress was “The Blessed Eucharist and Catholic Action.” The convention resulted, among other things, in the formation by Campion leaders of an unofficial clearing house for ideas on Catholic Action.

Half a dozen members and one of their chaplains prepared a joint pamphlet, entitled “Prelude to Catholic Action,” stressing formation instead of organisation, which had a wide circulation, and groups of Campion inspiration began to spring up in cities, country towns and most unexpected corners e£ the continent. At the same time, the Campion Society established contact with the outside world and began to build up knowledge of what was being thought and done in other countries.

English ideas filtered in through the press, notably the “Catholic Herald,” the “Weekly Review” and “Blackfriars,” to mention only the more influential.

The society was in touch with Rev. Fr. Kothen of the J.O.C. and the “Action Populaire” in France. Thus the “Dossiers” and “Cahiers” and the rich, inspiring literature of Jocism began to exert its influence on the movement.

Of American influences, Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin have ;been, perhaps, the greatest, for the American “Catholic Worker” inspired ;a like venture in the South Seas.


The foundation of the “Catholic Worker” was an event of profound importance for the future of Catholic social policy in Australia. The writer, a Campion chaplain, was present on that summer evening late in January, 1936, when the first “pull” was drawn, wet, “”blotchy and technically rather primitive, from an over-worked press in a small suburban printery in an industrial suburb, and eagerly scrutinised by the first Campion “Catholic Worker” group.

The edition was bundled up and despatched by the writers. The .first copy was sent to Pope Pius XI. and another to Joseph Stalin, Moscow! And when the job was done and the hour very late, the boys drank a bottle of wine and said a decade of the Rosary.

So began the Australian “C.W.,” inspired, it is true, by its elder brother in America, but differing in origins, policy and organisation. It was founded, with the permission of Archbishop Mannix, as a free organ •of lay opinion and propaganda for .social justice.

It grew almost overnight into a national monthly of 50,000 copies. The first consignment to Adelaide was preceded by a telegram which read as follows: “Five hundred Catholic Workers’ arriving Adelaide railway station.” The police were advised and extra men were detailed for duty!

The Australian “C.W.” is not a centre of a “movement” along Mott-street lines. There are, as yet, no breadlines, houses of hospitality, farming communes, nor organised counsels of perfection.

But there is plenty of round-table discussion, for the paper is co-operatively edited and written (without pay and after work) by a group of laymen, with the object of giving the Australian worker a concrete programme of Christian social action, on the lines of the encyclicals.

To-day, it is conducted by a central committee of 24 men, with an inner council of members of at least two years’ experience, to preserve continuity of policy. Its criticism of modern policy is expressed in the dialectic of Belloc’s “Servile State” and its policy is summed up in its slogan, “Property for the People!” Its conclusions are its own, nor does it commit the Church or the Hierarchy. In 1937 it received the Apostolic Blessing of Pope Pius XI.


When the Fourth Plenary Council of the Hierarchy of Australasia met in September, 1937, the Bishops recognised and commended the “Catholic Worker.” They also implemented a memorandum on ^Catholic Action, submitted by Campion leaders, urging the establishment of a National Secretariat and a period of experimentation and formation of leaders, so that Catholic Action should not be superimposed from above but should be an organic growth from below, following the principle of specialisation according to milieu.

The founder of the Campion movement, Frank Maher, was appointed director, and B. A. Santamaria became his assistant. Educated by the Christian Brothers and the Jesuits, Maher is a lawyer, who is attracted more by the cosmic conflicts of history than by the legal battles of the Bar.

A neat, suave and restrained personality, who prefers compromise to conflict, his tact and diplomacy have been a prime factor in the lay development of the ‘thirties. By contrast, his assistant, Santamaria, is a miniature tornado of ideas and energy. Australian-born, he followed ‘ a brilliant law course, but sublimated a zest for politics in a social apostolate.

His initiative and flair for journalism left their mark on all Campion activities, while in recent years his powers of oratory, leadership and organisation have been turned to building the Australian Catholic Rural Movement, perhaps the most important field of Catholic Action developed under the Secretariat. Starting from small beginnings about four years ago, it now has groups, centres and regions scattered up and down Australia, and is federated as a national movement, with its own newspaper, “Rural Life.”

While English, French and Belgian ideas have had no little influence in other fields of the Australian lay apostolate, American and Canadian ideas have been the major inspiration in the Australian rural movement.


Among other founders of the Campion Society, which included a convert parson and a former seminarian, was Denys Jackson, an English convert from Liverpool, who came to Australia on an exchange system as a teacher of history, settled permanently, married, after proposing by cable to his future wife in England, and, after winning a university prize essay on “Catholicism and Reconstruction,” began free-lancing for Catholic newspapers, became the best Catholic editorial writer in the Commonwealth and an authoritative commentator on world affairs.

The influence of French thought, particularly Charles Maurras, gives him a certain monarchist slant of mind and a definite contempt for demagogy.

A striking figure, unexpected in dress and somewhat Chestertonian in style, Jackson, a specialist in history, is at home with the Caesars, Charlemagne, St. Louis, the Stuarts and Napoleon and has become something of a legend, for his voice is known to thousands who have never seen him—the great radio audience which settles down every

Sunday night to hear his weekly commentary, presented as “The Onlooker” from the Catholic Hour, 3AW, Melbourne. Another foundation member, who had, however, no influence on the movement, was Frank Quaine, a bril-

liant French scholar of Melbourne University, who found himself so spiritually unattuned to Australia that he went to live in France, wrote articles for the royalist press, and took part in the retreat from Dunkirk, escaping safely to England on a destroyer.

Of profound importance in the history of the movement has been Kevin T. Kelly, a chubby dynamo of physical and mental energy, son of a railroad worker, an ardent democrat and radical Labourite, whose torrid oratory has been heard from public platform, university rostrum and soap-box.

One of the keenest minds thrown up by the society, Kelly was the founder of the Catholic Evidence Guild and is, perhaps, the best brain in the Catholic social movement.

He simultaneously served in a Government department, worked his way through college, studied the Catholic Revival, maintained a worldwide correspondence and hammered but a policy of social Catholicism and introduced the fundamental methods of Jocism.


The climax of the movement which began with the first Campion group in 1931 was the unification of Catholic Action by the Hierarchy in October, 1941. It set the seal of approval on the work of the Secretariat, established by lay initiative in 1938, a work which has already produced abundant good in the public life of the Commonwealth. The national scheme of child endowment (family allowances) which became law early this year and went into operation in July, by which every mother of a family receives one dollar per head per week for every child after the first, was due in no small measure to the united Catholic voice, led by the Secretariat of Catholic Action and expressed in its statement on social justice of 1940.

Recently, Dr. H. V. Evatt, Attorney-General and Minister for External Affairs in the present Government, paid a tribute to Catholic Action and its 1941 statement, entitled “Justice Now.”

Speaking of the wider distribution of wealth and property in a national broadcast, Dr. Evatt said: “I think I can make the point clearer by citing ‘Justice Now,’ an official research study of the Australian Secretariat of Catholic Action. I am not a member of the Catholic Church and, therefore, I feel a special duty to pay a tribute to the value of this study.”


Meanwhile, the war birds are loose in the Pacific and Australians are experiencing for the first time the fear and exhilaration of armed conflict at their doors. There is complete unity among her people and the Labour Prime Minister, John Curtin, has announced new emergency measures, “the first instalment of a complete revision of the whole of the Australian economy and domestic life.”

And so Australia, the terra australia incognita which eluded discoverers, puzzled geographers and grew to nationhood in detachment and loneliness, has yielded up her splendid isolation before the silver wings of ocean fliers and has emerged into the full light of history. What the future holds no man can tell.


Growth of Australian Catholic Action (The Advocate, Thursday 26 March 1942, page 15)