Santamaria’s Salesman

Former Australian YCW leader Kevin Peoples has written an excellent historical memoir, Santamaria’s Salesman, detailing his own youthful experiences working with the National Catholic Rural Movement in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Originally from Terang in the Western District of the state of Victoria, in 1956 Kevin joined a local YCW team in his parish, which is part of the Ballarat diocese. These were the glory days of the YCW in Australia.

Although his book is not about the YCW as such, Kevin gives a great account of his own account and understanding of the movement, as learnt from priests such as chaplain then-Father John Molony, later to become a prominent historian.

But coming from a rural area, Kevin wanted to continue his apostolate within the wider rural community, leading to his involvement in the NCRM, another movement of Catholic Action of that era.

Kevin expected the NCRM to follow the Cardijn, specialised Catholic Action model that he had learnt from the YCW.

But he was dismayed to find that it had been turned into what he came to regard as an organisation whose main aim, under the influence of the late BA Santamaria, was to fight the threat of communism.

Fr Bruce Duncan offers a great review of the book, which he delivered at the book’s launch in 2012:

And this is a video of Kevin also speaking about his book:

Brian Coyne has another interesting review and interview with Kevin here:

To add my own thoughts, I found Kevin’s book both riveting and beautifully, sometimes almost poetically written.

It is probably the best published account of the differences between the Cardijn conception of Catholic Action and that espoused and promoted by Santamaria. That alone makes it an exceptionally important document.

There’s another point which is also quite significant. On Page 82-83, Kevin writes that the Campion Society had a “very clear idea of what Catholic Action was”.

“A memorandum sent to Dr Mannix in 1937 and written by Kevin Kelly, Murray McInerney and Ken Mitchell laid out the plans for a national structure of Catholic Action in Australia. They also made clear to Mannix the model of Catholic Action they wanted: it was the Belgian/French or, as it was sometimes named, the Jocist model. This model was based on the principles outlined by Jacques Maritain, the French Catholic philosopher, and the model adopted by the young founder of the YCW, Joseph Cardijn, in Belgium.”

I have no doubt that this was the model promoted by the Campion Society. However, I doubt that the chaplains and key leaders of the Australian YCW ever had much knowledge or regard for Maritain’s principles.

I believe that this view is confirmed by Robert Pascoe’s biography of Fr John F. Kelly (The Feasts and Seasons of John F. Kelly), who played a key role in the development of the Australian YCW through his work translating key Cardijn texts into English and in producing the YCW Leaders Bulletin, the formation magazine of the movement. Pascoe’s biography makes no reference by Kelly to Maritain in the context of the YCW.

On the other hand, there is no doubt that Kevin T. Kelly was a great fan, and indeed a friend of Maritain. But this Maritain thinking never became part of the YCW thinking.