1924-2024: From the Jeunesse Syndicaliste to the JOC

Happy new year 2024, a year that’s going to be particularly rich in jocist anniversaries. So many, in fact, that I’m going to leave the birth and death anniversaries to a second post and start here with several event anniversaries, beginning with the centenary of the name “Jeunesse Ouvrière Chrétienne” or JOC.

From the Jeunesse Syndicaliste to the Jeunesse Ouvrière Chrétienne

Cardijn always insisted that the YCW really began with the first study circles of young female workers that he launched in the parish of Notre Dame at Laeken in 1912. The accepted date for the “foundation” of the YCW, however, is usually taken to be 1925, which witnessed the first national congress of the Belgian JOC following Pope Pius XI’s enthusiastic approval and endorsement of the movement in March of that year.

However, history also records that it was in 1924 that the movement, which was initially known as the Jeunesse Syndicaliste or Young Trade Unionists, formally changed its name to Jeunesse Ouvrière Chrétienne, giving rise to the iconic initials “JOC,” or Young Christian Workers (YCW) as it became known in English.

This change took place in March-April 1924 as attested by the renaming of the movement’s magazine from “Jeunesse Syndicaliste,” as it was known from 1919 until March 1924, to “Jeunesse Ouvrière” in April 1924 (Images above).

None of this – needless to say – occurred in a vacuum but rather in the midst of the many tensions and conflicts with the Church and the trade union movement that beset the birth of the JOC. Marguerite Fiévez and Jacques Meert refer to these in their biography of Cardijn as follows:

From April onwards the trades-union youth adopted a new title. By calling themselves Jeunesse Ouvrière Chretienne, Young Christian Workers, they wanted to avoid the impression of being purely concerned with trades-union questions; they wanted to make a clear distinction – without any idea of separation or opposition between their own movement and those of other social surroundings.

Nevertheless, even if the choice was not entirely voluntary it had the advantage of liberating the movements from some but not all of those conflicts.

While it’s true that Cardijn dreamed of an international movement from the beginning, he surely could never have imagined in 1924 that the JOC would still exist in 70 countries or more a century later!

Statutes of the JOC

A second important jocist event of 1924 was the adoption of draft statutes for the movement at a meeting of 56 priests on 10 July of that year.

The details are recorded in the first edition of the Bulletin des Dirigeants or Leaders Bulletin of the JOC, which also began in roneoed form in July 2024 (image below).

Significantly, the report notes that the meeting took place with the explicit approval of the bishop of Tournai in the south of Belgium and was chaired by the vicar-general Liège. But there is no mention of Cardijn’s own archbishop, Cardinal Désiré Mercier.

In fact, over the course of 1924, Cardijn would face great difficulties with Mercier, who came close to banning the movement, a situation only resolved in March 1925 when Pope Pius XI endorsed the movement at Cardijn’s famous first audience with him.

Nevertheless, as Fiévez and Meert document once again, that July 1924 meeting succeeded in mobilising Church support for the JOC from the other Walloon dioceses:

The fifty-six priests of the Walloon region who took part in the meeting of July 10th unanimously adopted a series of concrete decisions, arrived at more in moral and apostolic than in juridical fashion. What it came to was that there had to be a young workers’ movement which was complete and autonomous, apostolic and educative. It should be developed and grow according to the programme and statutes proposed by the Young Christian Workers.

The young worker faces life

2024 also marks the 75th anniversary of one of Cardijn’s most iconic texts, Le jeune travailleur, la jeune travailleuse devant la vie, published in 1949 and translated into English as The Young worker faces life.

The booklet comprised Cardijn’s lectures from the annual Easter training school for YCW leaders held at St Paul’s College, Godinne-sur-Meuse, Belgium.

Read it here:

https://www.josephcardijn.com/en/item/47

The Melbourne YCW published it in English translation in 1961, copies of which are still extant on the shelves of YCW offices and in the personal collections of many leaders of that time.

Personally, I always remember former Australian YCW chaplain, Hugh O’Sullivan, telling me (and others) that The Young Worker Faces Life was the most essential of Cardijn’s writings (available in English at least) for an in depth understanding of the movement.

Patrick Keegan and Lumen Gentium

Another major jocist anniversary of 2024 will be the 60th anniversary of the adoption by the Council Fathers at Vatican II of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, including for the first time ever in an Ecumenical Council document, a chapter on the laity.

Here, we also recall that the first lay person invited by Pope Paul VI to address the Council Fathers in aula, i.e. in full plenary session, was the Englishman, Pat Keegan, an early international leader of the International YCW, as well as a co-founder of the World Movement of Christian Workers (WMCW).

Read about his life and also his speech here:

https://patkeegan.josephcardijn.com

Patrick Keegan around the time of Vatican II

YCW House in Sydney

A third significant jocist anniversary, for me particularly, was the purchase of the YCW House in Sydney, Australia. It’s a long story but we had just started the YCW in Sydney the previous year and we had been given notice to leave the original rented house.

This led to the project to purchase a house for the movement in the Sydney suburb of Granville, where it continues to host both YCW and YCS. And the house is still there at 25 Union St, Granville, still the national office of the Australian YCW and the Parramatta YCW and YCS!

YCW House, Granville, NSW, Australia

Finally, an even more personal anniversary for me, since this year will also mark 50 years since I first reluctantly accepted an invitation from the young priest at Sacred Heart parish, St Albans in Melbourne, Australia, to attend a meeting to “discuss youth issues.” One thing’s for sure, i.e. in 1984 I could never have imagined still being here and writing this!

I’ll endeavour to write more about this and other stories in the coming months of 2024. And later this week I’ll have another list of jocist births and anniversaries for 2024.

Meanwhile, enjoy the new year!

Stefan Gigacz