Chair of Catholic Action at Corpus Christi

Important Appointment to Fulfil Direct Wish of Holy Father

Ecclesiastical Assistant, National Secretariat of Catholic Action.


THE appointment of the Rev. C. Mayne, S.J., to a newly-established Chair of Catholic Action at Corpus Christi Seminary, Werribee, Victoria, is an announcement of major importance made recently by the authorities of the college.

It is a matter of keen satisfaction that the college, in making the appointment, is fulfilling the ^direct wish of the Holy Father that seminaries should provide adequate training for priests to assist them in their later work as chaplains of Catholic Action.

When the late Holy Father made his famous appeal to the priests of the world to encourage and support Catholic Action, he well realised the momentous nature of the work he was confiding to them and the tremendous burden he was placing on their already heavily-laden shoulders.

The words, “It is your chief duty, Venerable Brethren, and that of your clergy to seek diligently, to select prudently and to train fittingly lay ajJbstles . . .,” might not at once attract the full attention of the casual reader. In fact,-they open whole new worlds of activity and influence for the average priest.


Since the beginning of official Catholic Action in Australia, the lay leaders have set themselves to gain the confidence of the priests and work in the most complete co-operation” with them. The manner in which this co-operation is to be exercised, of course, was not clear at the beginning. While there are certain fundamental principles that hold true in all cases, the exact amount of direction which the priest will need to give in a lay movement depends, to a great extent, on the type of movement as well as on the age, sex and degree of education of the members. Nevertheless, this work has been undertaken with the greatest good-will on both sides.

To most people in this country, Catholic Action is, at their first acquaintance with it, a new and rather bewildering science. Its purpose—the winning of the world to Christ through the activity of lay-folk—is clear enough. It is the questions of technique and of organisation that are, at the beginning, somewhat baffling. For those in charge of such movements a good deal of study and experience is necessary before the full wealth and complexity of a Catholic Action organisation becomes revealed. Pope Pius XI. was well aware of the difficulties in the past, and he was constantly asking and praying that *he “should be properly understood” then he spoke of Catholic Action. Each of us is in danger of twisting the Pope’s words to suit our own particular views and prejudices. We think of the things we would like to see done and describe these as Catholic Action. Even more often we think of the particular things we want done instead of thinking of the movement which is to do it. Catholic Action is a movement, an institution, an organisation, and one of the simplest definitions of a Catholic Action work is that it is “something done by a person las a member of an official Catholic Action movement set up by the Bishop.”


At any rate, Catholic Action is definitely not something which one can take up and handle efficiently at five minutes’ notice. This applies to the priest as well as to the layman. It is a different type of organisation from the older Catholic societies—much wider in its scope, using more modern methods and concerned with the penetration of the environment rather than with spasmodic “good deeds.” Moreover, each movement of Catholic Action tends to develop its own distinct technique and approach. The things that will interest young girls of seventeen are widely different from those which one must place before farmers or lawyers. Young workers are attracted by ideals which will not appeal directly to groupings of married women.

Yet the parish priest may have to deal with half a dozen different organisations, giving to the leaders of each a spiritual formation adapted to their own environment, advising them on the most suitable methods, warning them of pitfalls and taking a personal interest in the leaders.

It is not only a question of time for a priest who has already as much as he can handle, particularly under war conditions. It is not merely that he must give up more of his energy to the training of leaders of organisations which he has not hitherto had to consider. There is the point that the training of leaders, particularly the training of youth leaders, is a special study.

He is obliged to go deeply into their daily lives; to discover by patient enquiry the conditions in offices and factories, the popular types of amusement, the views on social affairs. He has to understand thoroughly the psychology of young people, to draw out what is best in them with patience and courage, and, instead of merely inculcating general principles, to be rigidly and constantly realist in his approach. The training of youth is a work for experts, and the priest is asked to make himself expert in half a dozen different directions. This he cannot achieve quickly.


For it should be insisted on that Catholic Action asks more of the priest than does any other Catholic body. With a confraternity or sodality, the priest has merely to attend regularly a general gathering and give an instruction. On the other hand, “Catholic Action,” as Pius XI. wrote, “says to each of its ecclesiastical assistants, in regard to the share Entrusted to each, ‘My lot is in Thy hands.”‘

Catholic Action does place in the hands of the priest its members to a very high degree. It says to him, in effect:

“Here are the pick of the people in the parish. You, as our Ecclesiastical Assistant, are, to some extent, a Master of Novices. It is for you to mould these people in the way of perfection,, to guide them so that they may have not only a Catholic mind, but a more intense knowledge and love of Our Lord, a vivid sense of their important apostolate, and a clear idea of how to make that apostolate a practical reality.” One cannot do better than quote Cardinal Pizzardo: “Given the nature of Catholic Action, it is.clear that the priest, in the exercise of his normal function as Assistant, is and really must be, the soul of his association, the inspiration of good enterprises, the source of zeal and the fashioner of consciences.”

The effects of such close association between the priest and the best elements of his laity must be of the highest value. In his Sunday sermons he has to appeal to a large and diffused audience and can use only general terms. In his discussions with his lay leaders in separate movements he can give them a more precise and practical formation exactly suited to the needs and difficulties of the members. What is even more important, he is able to make direct use of the enthusiasm and ability of his best parishioners and through them extend, to an unprecedented extent,, the influence which he can exert in the parish. Through them, he can reach corners of the parish which time and other duties normally prevent him from approaching. Each trained lay leader becomes, as it were, a bridge over which the priest can come to the people and the people can come to the priest.


All this, however, as we have said, cannot be achieved easily or without special preparation. For the priest of the future it is part of his normal functions to be a chaplain to Catholic Action movements. Already in many of the seminaries in Australia groups of students in their senior years have been meeting in order to prepare themselves for this new and difficult role. Groups of young priests have been coming together to discuss the problems of spiritual formation for their lay collaboration. They have been writing and publishing their own special bulletins for this purpose. Yet even more than this is required.

The Australian Bishops’ Committee on Catholic Action in its recent statement declared: “We have been particularly gratified to notice the attention which has been given in recent years in the ecclesiastical seminaries to the instruction of students for the priesthood in the principles of Catholic Action.” Now the appointment of a special professor of Catholic Action will provide a systematic and permanent means of carrying out the wishes of the Holy Father and of the Bishops.

The experience of three decades of Catholic Action in Europe and America is available to us in Australia. There is a wealth of splendid literature on the whole great question of the means by which the priest may set alight the fire of apostolic enthusiasm in the hearts of Catholic men and women. It will now be possible to tap these rich resources more fully.

The new professor, Rev. C. Mayne, S.J., has not only studied deeply the authorities who have spoken and written about this vast subject, but has, himself, been closely in touch for some years with the lay leaders of the various Catholic Action movements throughout Australia. He comes to his new position with already practical experience in the running of groups of leaders and of movements, and is thus thoroughly aware of the actual problems which young priests will have to encounter in this field.

VERY REV. W. P. HACKETT, S.J., Ecclesiastical Assistant, National Secretariat of Catholic Action


Chair of Catholic Action at Corpus Christi (Advocate (Melbourne, Vic. : 1868 – 1954), Thursday 2 April 1942, page 17) (Trove)

First Federal Conference of Delegates

The first Conference of Organisers of Catholic Action in Australia and New Zealand took place at the offices of the National Secretariat of Catholic Action, 379 Collins Street, Melbourne. The following delegates attended the Conference, which was held under the auspices of the Episcopal Sub-Committee on Catholic Action: — Adelaide, Rev. W. L. Dunne, Mr. P. Gillick; Armidale, Rev. P. J. Dunne, D.D., Mr. H. M. Regan; Ballarat. Rev. J. Mclnerney; Brisbane, Mr. Favier; Hobart, Rev. R. Scarfe; Maitland, Rev. E. Tweedy, D.D. ; Melbourne, Rev. T. O’Sullivan; New Zealand, Rev. J. A. Higgins, S.M.; Rockhampton, Very Rev. Dean Rowan; Sale, Rev. T. Calinan; Sandhurst. Rev. T. Cahill, D.D.; Toowoomba, Rev. E. Concannon; Townsville, Rev. P. T. Kelly; Wagga, Rev. B. W. Hayden; Western Australia, Rev. J. Hussey; National Secretariat, Mr. F. K. Maher and Mr. B. A. Santamaria. 

The resolutions passed by the Conference were subsequently submitted to a meeting of the Episcopal Sub-Committee on Catholic Action and have been approved by the Sub-Committee. Resolutions Passed Ey Conference. 

1. That the Conference express its sorrow at the death of his Holiness the Pope and requests the National Secretariat to ask the Apostolic Delegate to send on behalf of the Conference a cablegram to his Eminence Cardinal Pizzardo expressing the feelings of the members of the Conference and asking for his Eminence’s blessing on their deliberations. 

2. That the Conference recommends the general instructions on the formation of groups and the conduct thereof as set out in the brochure ‘Your Group’ published by the National Secretariat and suggests that further consideration be given to the question of programmes for the first year. 

3. That the Conference recommend the insertion of the Prayer for the Conversion of Australia among the prayers to be recited at group meetings. 

4. That the Diocesan organisers be recommended, in preparing the First Year Courses for their groups, to arrange for treatment of the topics recommended by the Sub-Committee on group programmes, while keeping very closely in mind the need to vary the method’ and order of treatment of these topics according to the requirements of the various kinds of groups, and that the National Secretariat be asked to prepare outlines and questionnaires covering the topics — publishing pamphlets if possible, where such are necessary, for the assistance of group leaders. 

5. That special emphasis be paid by diocesan organisers in arranging their programmes to the study of the Mass. 

6. That a discussion on the proper use of leisure and of sport be added to the syllabus for first year groups. 

7. That all Catholic Action groups take into serious consideration the study of the Liturgy of the Church and that the National Secretariat use every means to foster the study of the Liturgy in study groups. 

8. That Catholic Action groups should be directed to devote some portion of each meeting to planning local action. 

9. That this Conference being convinced that the only effective method of solving the youth problem is by training youth to conquer youth, strongly recommends that in commencing a youth movement the method should follow strictly Catholic Action lines from the beginning and should commence with the training of a small group of militants between the ages of 14 to 25. 

10. That the principals of Catholic schools be asked to furnish Diocesan Secretariats with the names, addresses, and where possible the intention as to occupations of the boys and girls leaving primary and secondary schools each year. 

11. That the National Secretariat be asked to issue direction for the commencement of youth groups along the lines of the Young Christian Workers’ Movement. 

12. That the Conference recommend that as far as possible the method of specialisation should be adopted by Diocesan Organisers in the organisation of groups according to interest, based on vocational grouping, in the sense of Catholic social principles, and not according to class distinctions based on occupations. 

14. That the Conference suggests that to secure the interest of priests in Catholic Action at meetings of priests the organisation of Catholic Action be discussed wherever possible and that a recommendation should be made for the establishment, wherever possible, of groups of priests for the study of Catholic Action. 

15. That the term ‘Ecclesiastical Assistant’ should be preferred to the term ‘Chaplain’ to describe those priests appointed by the Bishops to look after groups of Catholic Action. 

16. That the Conference recommend that the ‘Bulletin for Chaplains of Catholic Action’ published at Mosgiel, New Zealand, should receive support from the priests. 

17. That no fixed spiritual obligations be imposed on members of Catholic Action groups, provided they are practical Catholics, but very special spiritual exercises and advice be provided for them and they should be encouraged to make more use of these for their spiritual formation as militants. 

18. That the Conference request the permission of the Episcopal SubCommittee to describe their groups working under the authority of the Diocesan Organisers as ‘Catholic Action Groups.’ 

19. That the Conference recommends the establishment of Catholic literature groups in every parish for the purpose of selling Catholic literature and that such groups be co-ordinated under the Diocesan Organiser. : 

20. That this Conference gives its support to a monthly paper proposed to be published for the ? development of the Rural Movement and to do all in its power to promote such movement and the interest of such a paper. 

12. That the Diocesan Organisers should attempt to obtain agents to distribute the Italian Paper ‘L’Angelo della Famiglia’ and to encourage groups to push the sale of this publication in districts where there are groups of Italians. 

22. That the Conference recommend the formation of a special group to write to the Catholic and secular press provided such groups are organised under the supervision of the Diocesan Organisers. 

23. That the National Secretariat be asked to produce a monthly bulletin of Catholic Action for circulation among Catholic Action groups in Australia and New Zealand. 

24. That the Conference recommend the establishment of Catholic Action groups in schools along the lines suggested in the agenda for the National Conference. 

25. That the Conference recommends to the Diocesan Organisers to organise groups of Catholic teachers to study the question of Catholic Action In Catholic schools, particularly with rel’orence to the youth problem. 

26. That the Secretarial should compile a syllabus of Instruction for schools concerning the social doctrine of the Church and other matters connected with Catholic Action, together with suitable references thereof and should make these available for the use of teachers in Catholic schools. 

27. That the Conference recommends the Diocesan Organisers to obtain the assistance of the inspectors of Catholic schools in promoting Catholic Action throughout the diocese. 

28. That the Conference recommend that the Liturgical Movement be given special encouragement in the schools, particularly by means of thorough instruction on the Sacrifice of the Mass, the uso of the Missal and the trim significance of the Sacraments. 

29. That the Conference recommends the establishment in the Diocese of Maitland of a ‘Social Justice Information Bureau’ to co-operate with the National Secretariat in the dissemination of information on the fundamental principles of the Catholic social order with particular reference to the manner in which the principles nffoct the mining industry. 

30. That the Conference recommend the establishment through the cooperation of Father Higgins and the National Secretariat, of a Social Justice Information Bureau for the organising of propaganda on a large scale to disseminate knowledge of the fundamental principles on which, according to the Pontifical documents, the Christian social order must be built and that this information be available, particularly in times of acute social unrest. 

31. The following recommendations of the Sub-Committee appointed to deal with finance were unanimously adopted: 

(a) That the sale of Catholic literature, such as C.T.S. pamphlets, the Sheed and Ward Series, etc., should be exploited as one of the means of financing Catholic Action. 

(b) That the National Secretariat should explore the possibilities of arranging visits from overseas lecturers from time to time.


First Federal Conference of Delegates (Catholic Freeman’s Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1932 – 1942), Thursday 15 June 1939, page 4) (Trove)

Restoring All Things—A Guide to Catholic Action

The World Scene of the Christian Apostolate

WHEN an idea takes to itself a body, the result is a revolution.” These striking words of that strange French genius, Charles Peguy, open the introduction of Sheed and Ward’s eagerly-awaited book on Catholic Action, “Restoring All Things,” edited by Rev. Fr. J. Fitzsimons and Australia’s own Paul McGuire. The terms of reference are clear and explicit. “It is not a theoretical treatise; there are already many authoritative works on this subject: the books of Mgr. Civardi, of Mgr. Guerry, of Fr. Lelotte, the collected documents of the Pope . . . and books and pamphlets by the various specialised movements in Europe. Rather is it an invitation to action. To those who wish to do something it says: This is what other people are doing and why they are doing it. Go thou and do likewise.”

The dust cover prepares the reader with a fourfold division of contents:

I. The Governing Elements of Catholic Action:— The Mystical Body, by the Regent of the Dominican House of Studies, Lille. The Liturgy, by Dom Gaspar Lefebvre, O.S.B. The Priest in Catholic Action, by Canon P. Glorieux.

II. National Organisations (Belgium, France, Italy).

III. Group Methods in Four Typical Organisations: Jeunesse Ouvriere Chretienne, L.O.C., Chretienne Bourgeoisie, The Grail.

IV. Formation for Catholic Action, by Paul McGuire.

Inside, however, the original plan has been slightly modified, and a highly informative” and encouraging survey included on “The World Scene of Gatholic Action.” Further, two practical appendices have been added, one on the “Liturgy and Catholic Action,” drawn up by Dom B. McElligott, and approved by Cardinals Pizzardo and Hinsley, and another on “Preparation for Catholic Action in Schools,” as outlined for the Archdiocese of Calcutta.

* * *

The book moves heavily through the first three chapters, then catches fire as the world scene of the new crusade opens out before the reader. The opening chapter, we think, is unfortunate; an excellent study for a theological review, but by no means a treatment of Catholic Action and the Mystical Body suitable for lay formation. The doctrine of the Mystical Body is taken for granted, and Fr. Chenu, O.P., discusses the social aspect of human society, the Mystical Body as the social inspiration of the Christian community, and, finally, Catholic Action. Theologians will read with questioning surprise these words of Fr. Chenu: . . on the whole, one cannot deny the immense benefits of the socialisation of human resources and activity . . . the person finds a greater and more steady opportunity of progress in a more general socialisation of material and spiritual wealth.” Unfortunately, Fr. Chenu does not define his “socialisation.” Suoh statements are certainly dangerous for the untrained youths of Catholic Action groups. One or two paragraphs in this section suffer from bad translation from the French, and are virtually meaningless. However, Fr. Chenu’s contribution is worth while if only for the following criticism of Catholic tactics in the past:

There was once a time when the Christian recoiled before the magnitude of these social phenomena, especially those of the world of labour, wherein machinism had rendered more sensible and more pressing this new collectivism; and so they withdrew into a fearful seclusion. . . . For a long time, far too long, magnificent apostolic zeal was spent in “protecting” the Christian from his milieu, and in creating for him an artificicl milieu, where he could take refuge, and at last live a Christian life, in a closed group far from pagan and perverse influences. At some given moment this was, perhaps, the inevitable last resource, but its strict empiricism would lead us to a Christianity of exiles, cut off from life, from the realities of their daily life, from their status and classes; to a Christianity without grip or audacity, to a Christianity which was disincarnated, that is to say without incarnation, abandoning the condemned and confounded mass of paganised humanity to its misery. This was more than an error of tactics; it was a structural fault, because it was an error of doctrine.

The reason why this attitude was an error of tactics and an error of doctrine is revealed in the following chapter on “Catholic Action and the Liturgy,” by Dom G. Lefebvre. The title is slightly misleading, for this section is really a detailed study of the theological basis of Catholic Action, running to over thirty pages. The author explains the inner life of the Mystical Body and the place of the Sacraments and the Liturgy in the growth of the lay apostolate. In the Christian liturgy the laity participate in the priesthood of Christ through the Hierarchy. In Catholic Action the laity participate in the apostolate of Christ through the Hierarchy. Both are essential manifestations of the same divine life which Christ our – Lord lives on earth in His Mystical Body. This chapter should be carefully explained and elaborated by priest-chaplains for the leaders of Catholic Action groups. Canon Glorieux, of the University of Lille, editor of the “Notes Pastorale Jociste,” official organ of the chaplains of French Catholic Action, contributes the chapter on “The Priest and Catholic Action.” The author quotes the words of the late Holy Father to the Bishops of the Argentine: “Catholic Action, though it is of its very nature the work of the laity, can neither begin nor prosper nor bear any special fruit without the assiduous and diligent activity of the priest.” He then gently indicates several mistakes to be avoided, and explains the function and approach of the priest in the formation of Catholic Actionists.

* * * *

Over half the book is a survey of what is actually being done in the field of Catholic Action throughout the world.

Nowhere yet has it achieved its mature forms. It is in process of formation, of development. It is not a piece of machinery which can be erected here, there and anywhere by a process of manufacture, to the design of a blueprint. Catholic Action belongs to life. It is a thing that grows. What is growing is a new community, a new society, a Christian society. . . . In some places and amongst some peoples it is more advanced: it grows faster than amongst others Each country, each milieu, each local group, must modify its methods and ultimately shape its technique and its organisations according to its needs, its native’ temperament and tradition, its human climate.

The world scene of Catholic Action reveals considerable local variations within the official framework, but hardly anywhere has a completed structure as yet appeared. Catholic Action, however, is definitely in being—in Poland, Peru, China, Argentine, Chile, India, Canada, South Africa, Ceylon, Uganda, West Africa, French North Africa, Jugoslavia, Hungary, Switzerland, Roumania (the first example of Byzantine Catholic Action), Germany, the United States, England, Ireland, Spain, Belgium, Italy, France, and Australia (to which twenty lines are devoted by the editors). Special chapters are given to Catholic Action in Italy, Belgium and France, because these countries have developed more mature forms, especially in the sphere of specialisation.

The principle of specialisation . . . is implied in the most elementary forms of Catholic Action. . . . Further, the Holy Father has indicated the need for specialisation according to vocation, when he has said that the apostle to the working man must be the working man, to the employer the employer. This is not an emphasis upon differences in economic and social status. It does not confirm class-divisions. It recognises the fact of these differences and its influence in the work of conversion, and ft recalls to each man his responsibility to those about him. The employer has no familiar understanding of the worker’s milieu, and he has neither the opportunity nor the experience to make a successful apostolate of it. Similarly, the worker is hardly likely to bring Christ to the employers. He is not himself one of them. The underlying principle of specialisation is this: if the world is to be won for Christ, then each one of us must strive to win his own little world, the world of his daily communications and intercourse. . . . So far from this specialised action confirming class distinctions, it is, in fact, the one way to overcome them: for as each class grows in knowledge and understanding of a Faith made common to all classes, so the common obligations are stressed and enforced with common sanctions. Catholic Action is theologically based on the doctrine of the Mystical Body: we are members, one of another. It is only in the realisation of that transcendent fellowship that the true social unity can be achieved. For the diversity of men, diversity of methods; but it is a variety in unity.

The chapter on Italy is a short history of the Catholic Revival, a story of persecution and struggle, of violent opposition and undaunted courage. The reforms of Pius X. and Pius XI. are outlined, and the conflict between the Fascist Government and Catholic Action briefly described. The section concludes with extracts from the statutes of Italian Catholic Action. The chapters on Belgium and France make fascinating reading, and the development of Catholic Action in these lands contains valuable lessons for Australia. Here the rise and growth of the Jocist movement, which the late Pope called authentic Catholic Action and the finished article, is traced to its full flowering in our own day. The spirit and methods of the J.O.C. have been described time and again in the pages of “The Advocate.” But the present book supplies in English a complete history, with a description of the Inquiry Method for the specialised formation of militants in particular environments. The concluding chapter on “Formation Technique,” by Paul McGuire, leaves little to be desired. It is clear, practical and already familiar to Australians who heard Mr. McGuire’s lectures last year, or who have read his articles in “The Advocate.”

There are no real conclusions to be drawn from the foregoing chapters, write the editors, apart from an insistence that movements and organisations have been described to illustrate the forms which Catholic Action may take, and has taken, in different countries. It is of the essence of the lay apostolate that it is supple and flexible, in which nothing vivifies more than the spirit, and nothing is more deadly than ready-made forms. . . . There can be no question of fixing duties and penalties where everything depends on circumstances, but could there be more solemn words, fitting words with which to conclude, than those of our (late) Holy Father, the Pope of Catholic Action: “Catholic Action is a function of the pastoral ministry, and, therefore, so bound up with Christian life that whatever assists it or hinders it is a definite assistance or a violation of the rights of the Church and of souls”?

Sheed and Ward have done a service to the English-speaking world in the publication of this book, and, although it bears traces of hasty assembling, contains many needless repetitions, and is without an index, it will be for long an invaluable handbook for priests and the lay leaders of Catholic Action.


Restoring All Things—A Guide to Catholic Action (Advocate (Melbourne, Vic. : 1868 – 1954), Thursday 6 April 1939, page 11) (Trove)