Cardijn and Pax Romana: 1921 – 2021

The Catholic movements of Pax Romana, which is comprised of the International Movement of Catholic Students and the International Catholic Movement of Intellectual and Cultural Affairs, celebrate their – or should I say our – centenary today 20 July 2021.

It’s been largely forgotten that Cardijn was a member of the national executive of the Belgian ICMICA movement, as documented by Pierre Sauvage in his biography of the French theologian and sociologist, Jacques Leclercq.

Robert Guelluy who critiqued the book for the Revue Théologique de Louvain even says that Sauvage should have explored Cardijn’s relationship with Leclercq further. (There’s always room for another paper or even book!)

It’s also largely forgotten that in 1919 Cardijn started a student movement, La Jeunesse Catholique Sociale, in parallel with the Jeunesse Syndicaliste, which became the JOC.

He explained the project as follows:

The very conception of the apostolic and missionary mission, proper to young workers, implied an essential and indispensable complement, namely the apostolic and missionary mission proper to young intellectuals, young academics as well as organised and methodical collaboration between the two in order to resolve not only the problem of a Christian social system but the very problem of working youth.

This need for formation, action and organisation that complemented each other, and for collaboration that was a practical manifestation of this and was not merely theoretical or spiritual but was in fact a lively and effective initiation and implementation from the very beginnings of the early JOC.

From 1912 and during the whole first war, it manifested itself though a narrow and fruitful collaboration that not only united young workers and academic youth but which enabled realisations that had a decisive impact on the whole social community.
In fact, what we see here is the birth of the idea of Specialised Catholic Action. As we have seen many times on this website, Cardijn was greatly influenced by Marc Sangnier’s Le Sillon movement, which was a movement of both students and young workers.
But Cardijn was clearly aware of the tensions that had emerged in the Sillon between university students, who tended to dominate, and young workers. His solution was two separate or “specialised” movements that would collaborate closely.
Unfortunately, the history of the Jeunesse Sociale Catholique remains to be written. Did it also send representatives to the first Pax Romana conference in Switzerland in 1921? Hopefully, someone will one day check out the Pax Romana archives in Fribourg. (Another thesis!)
In any case, Cardijn clearly maintained links with Pax Romana. Thus, on 6 August, 1938, he was invited to deliver a keynote address at its international congress at Bled, Yugoslavia.
Once again he took up the theme of promoting collaboration between workers and students. And he did not hesitate to offer jocist methods as a model for the student movement to follow:
1. The marvelous development of worker organisations not just with a view to material progress, but also with a view to spiritual and cultural progress creates practical difficulties with respect to regular collaboration, e.g. ongoing frameworks, methodical programs, discipline, etc.
2. An increasingly large working-class elite is becoming aware of its apostolic mission and devoting itself fully to this mission.
3. Catholic Action methods (by, with, for them; see, judge, act; action, formation, organisation) have shown great educational value both from a doctrinal and a dynamic point of view. We are witnessing the birth of a working-class culture and a working-class humanism that is developing rapidly.
4. By emphasising the personal and collective apostolate in the living environment (family, professional, recreational) these worker Catholic Action organisations are developing a sense of the necessary freedoms and fundamental responsibilities and are, therefore, clearly anti-statist and anti-totalitarian.
5. Worker Catholic Action and Catholic Social Action wiithin the working class are certainly a providential means for positively combating the threat of communism.
6. Worker Catholic Action and Catholic Social Action organisations promote effective and organised collaboration between students and workers, particularly between the mandated leaders of the two organisations. They are a genuine school of practical learning in social collaboration. They also increase the opportunities for disinterested collaboration in the field of physical culture as well as scientific and artistic popularisation. They are a considerable factor in bringing together classes and different backgrounds.
(Incidentally, it also appears that the future Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski of Poland, who wrote a famous book on the theology of work that was no doubt influenced by Cardijn, also participated at that congress.)
Moreover, perhaps it’s time to look again at how to promote the kind of collaboration between workers and students that Cardijn always desired.
In this light, the Australian Cardijn Institute applied this year to join Pax Romana ICMICA. We are pleased to say that we have been accepted as a corresponding institute, along with several other institutes in several countries.
Today therefore we are pleased to join in the celebration of the Pax Romana centenary and are proud to share its heritage.
Stefan Gigacz


Robert Guelluy, Compte-Rendu, Pierre Sauvage, Jacques Leclerq (1891-1971). Un arbre en plein vent. Préface de Lucien Guissard, 1992 (Revue Théologique de Louvain Année 1993 24-4 pp. 499-500/Persee)

Joseph Cardijn, La Jeunesse Sociale Catholique (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

Joseph Cardijn, Catholic Social Youth (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

Joseph Cardijn, Ouvriers et étudiants (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

Joseph Cardijn, Workers and students (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

Jacques Basyn, Notre vivante tradition (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

Stefan Gigacz, Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski – A founding JOC chaplain (Cardijn Research)

Pax Romana ICMICA

International Movement of Catholic Students (IMCS)

Australian Cardijn Institute