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)

Jocism Spreads to English Speaking Lands

ONE of the outstanding events of this year is bound to be the gathering in Rome of tens of thousands representing the Young Christian Workers. It will focus the attention of the whole Catholic world on a movement which has already won the commendation of Pope, Cardinals and Bishops and raised high hopes among all interested in Catholic Action. The Congress in Paris when 80,000 delegates met in a vast stadium is still remembered, as is Cardinal Verdier’s assertion on the occasion that never since the Crusades had such enthusiasm or such a Christian spirit been witnessed. With the presence (as all hope) of the new Pontiff himself to give importance to the assembly and the background of Rome to supply dignity and grandeur, the gathering this year should be even more notable. It is a “coming event” on which to keep your eye. We venture to declare that it will mark an. epoch in the history of modern Catholicism.

In the complexity of the modern world the working classes take on a growing importance, an importance which it would be stupid and unjust to underestimate. The extent to which the representatives of labour are penetrated with the principles of the Gospel will decide in large measure the extent to which the society of to-morrow will be Christian. It is no longer enough to oppose the difficulties and misfortunes of the times with a chorus of lamentations. A positive work is laid upon us. The Y.C.W. wishes to do this work, with the grace of God, and already positive results give good hope for the future.


The Y.C.W. was born in 1924, at least officially. It was then that it received its mandate as Catholic Action from the Belgium Episcopate. But it is necessary to go further back in order to describe its origins.

Among the remote causes which brought the Y.C.W. into existence, we must note on the one hand the great misery of the working class during the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth; and on the other hand, the ardent desire of leaders in the Church to reconquer the masses, to re-Christianise the world of work. The Y.C.W. recalls with pride the names of Ozanam, Harmel, von Ketteler, Ducpetiaux, Mgr. Pottier, and many others. Of their lineage comes Canon Cardijn, the founder of the Y.C.W., who had felt the misery, the moral and spiritual wretchedness of workingclass youth. He has often related how he himself, the son of a working class family, obtained permission from his father, to carry on his studies, to enter the “petit seminaire” in order to learn Latin and to be able, one day, to be a priest. When he came back to his home at Hal his old classmates, now become young workers, would have nothing to do with him. A barrier had grown between the future priest and the workers. The Church and the working class occupied opposing camps; he who passed from one to the other was considered a traitor. The young Cardijn experienced a profound sadness. That he should be considered a “traitor” to the working class! He resolves to devote his life to overcoming this barrier; as a priest he would serve and .save the working class. Some years later, at the deathbed of his father, he consecrated by a solemn vow this irresistible determination to work for the integral upraising of his brother workers. It should be noted that the Abbe

Cardijn, as a student at the “grand seminaire” of Malines, came twice to England in 1906-1907 in order to meet the founders and leaders of trade unionism. He was much impressed by the lofty religious ideal which animated these precursors of social reform. Soon afterwards he was nominated as curate in a working-class parish of Brussels, and began his experiment by gathernng round him a group of young workers and working girls. The events of August, 1914, the occupation of Brussels by the Germans, the departure to the front of his best collaborators, abruptly interrupted all activity. Cardijn, accused by the Germans of intercourse with the Allies, was soon arrested and thrown into prison. It was a providential moment for the” Y.C.W. Canon Cardijn admits that he profited from his long retreat in the prison cell by thinking out—with the aid of his past experience—the whole problem of wage-earning youth. When he came out of the prison at the Armistice the main lines of the “Manual of the Y.C.W.” were fixed. In 1919 he became director of social works in Brussels; the field for experiment was enlarged. He took Fernand Tonnet as his secretary, and together they founded the “Jeunesse Syndicalitee.”

In 1924 this group received official recognition on the part of the Church. It changed its name and became the Young Christian Workers.


(1) Realism: The Y.C.W. is thoroughly imbued with realism. The first work that every Y.C.W. must do consists in making enquiries in order to know, the exact situation of the young workers.. In small meetings, grouping four or five young workers, the most elementary questions are answered. At what hour do you get up? At what hour does your work begin? How do you get to your factory? Whom do you meet on the way? What do you talk about? What is your particular work? Have you any companions at work? What is their attitude? What are the hygienic and moral conditions? What are your wages? Where do you take your meals? How do you spend your evenings? Do you go to Mass on Sundays? What do you think of during the service? etc., etc. In this way an attempt is made to draw up a complete picture of the worker’s life. The immense distress of thousands of these young workers soon becomes clear.

As an example, consider this from the manual of the J.O.C.F.: “At the present time in our country there are 150,000, perhaps 200,000, working girls. Each year thousands of them, children of fourteen years of age, pass without any period of transition from the school to the factory, the workshop or the office. Even a few enquiries are sufficient to verify the fact of the lamentable consequences of all this; the moral abandonment, promiscuity, depraved conditions in which these girls are compelled to work in order to earn their living. And there is no danger of exaggeration; their situation is incredible. The girls in the factories— and these form the majority, 87,000 from 14 to 21 years of age—perform work that is so mechanical and brutalising amidst the noise and nerve-wracking rush of the machines in an environment that is often indecent, promiscuous and demoralising, that it rapidly defeminises the young girls completely, at the precise age when their nature as women should be awakened and developed.”

The girl engaged in the “professional” crafts of needlework finds, in general, a work more adapted to her temperament and feminine character. But one of its dangers is the perpetual solicitation of luxury. She is young and a trifle vain. How can she fail to be envious of that elegance which she creates for others, when her life, dwelling and dress are so different from everything she sees and produces? And the office worker? It might be thought that in an environment that is often better educated, she would be sheltered from the temptations which surround the factory worker. Unfortunately, the atmosphere of many offices is hardly better than that of the factories. Doubtless, immorality there takes on less gross forms, but flirtation installed as the normal relationship between young people and even between married men and girls, a “recherche toilette” made up simply to attract attention, conversation enlightened only by obscenity—all this would seem to put unprotected adolescents in constant danger. For the great enemy of wage-earning youth is isolation, abandonment.

(2) Idealism: The Y.C.W. equally professes a thorough idealism. All the young workers are called to a divine destiny. “From all eternity, God, by an infinite gift of His love, has predestined each young worker in particular, and all of them in general, to participate in His nature, His life, His love, His divine happiness. He has decided to give Himself, to communicate Himself to them, to enable them to live His life, to enlighten them with His truth, to enable them to take part in His reign. The young workers are not machines, animals or slaves. They are the sons, the heirs, the collaborator’s of God. ‘Dedit eis potestatem filios Dei fieri . . . divinse consortes naturae’ (He gave them power to become sons of God . . . partakers in His Divine Nature). It is their unique, their only, their true destiny, the point of their existence and their work, the origin of all their rights and duties.”

This destiny is not twofold; on the one hand eternal and on the other temporal, without a bond between them or mutual influence. There is not an eternal destiny by the side of, remote from earthly life, without relation to it. There is no disincarnate destiny, any more than there is a disincarnate religion. It is an eternal destiny incarnate in time, begun in time, realising and developing itself in time, working towards its fulfilment in time, in this earthly life, in the whole of it, in all its aspects and applications and realisations; in bodily, intellectual, moral, emotional, professional, social and public life: in the concrete, practical life of every day. Religion is not separated from morality; in the same way man’s eternal destiny is not separated from his temporal destiny. “Et Verbum caro factum est et habitavit in nobis” (And the Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us). As the Word was incarnate and dwelt among us, so the eternal destiny of each man is incarnate in his temporal life, is developed and realised there—”semper et ubique sicut in coelo et in terra” (always and everywhere as in heaven, so on earth).

(3) Action: When we observe the enormous distance which separates the actual situation of the young workers from the ideal to which they are called, we are compelled to say: a vast movement must be created which will help the young workers to escape from their distress in order that they may be able to work out their destiny.

In the face of all the problems besetting the life of the young workers, it must be admitted that the religious and moral, social and family formation of the young workers is impossible without an organisation which gathers together all the young workers from the time they leave school until they enter the adult associations. It must be an organisation which does away with isolation and abandonment, which helps them to choose a trade, which prepares them for their life as workers, watches over them at work and on the way to work, helps them to form themselves, to defend and protect themselves; which studies all the problems of their life as young workers. It must be an organisation which, in brief, assumes all the social services necessary for the education, the safeguarding, and defence of the young workers. This movement is the Y.C.W.,” which gathers together the wage-earning young men and girls from 14 to 25 years of age.


Jocism Spreads to English Speaking Lands (Advocate, Thursday 23 March 1939, page 25) (Trove)