France, a mission country?

On 12 September 1943, a “bomb” exploded in France, Robert Dumont wrote of the initial publication of Henri Godin and Yvan Daniel’s classic work, France, pays de mission?.

Both Godin and Daniel were French YCW chaplains, who could see that the work initiated by Cardijn and the JOC needed to be developed further.

Exactly like Cardijn himself, Godin, who was born on 13 April 1906, had experienced the shock of being rejected by his former school friends after entering the seminary.

Originally from the Jura mountains region of eastern France, after ordination he was sent to study at the Catholic University of Lille in the north.

There he encountered a flourishing YCW movement and became a chaplain, much-loved for his closeness to the young workers.

Here he also honed his skills as a writer producing a long series of pamphlets and publications for the movement.

All this led him and his colleague, Yvan Daniel, in 1943 to write a full-length book raising major questions about the failures of the French Church to reach the burgeoning industrial working class of that time.

Indeed, it may be that Godin and Daniel were inspired by another book of a similar name written by the Jesuit Alberto Hurtado, the founder of the Chilean JOC, who in 1941 had published the book ¿ Es Chile un país Católico ?.

In any event, as Robert Dumont has written, France, pays de mission had the effect of a bomb going off, helping spark the rise of the French worker priest movement.

Soon after the book’s publication, Godin moved to Paris to continue to develop his work through a “Mission de Paris” that he founded to reach the working class.

Tragically, he died on 16 January 1944 of smoke inhalation after his woollen mattress caught fire from a malfunctioning heater.

But the influence of his book continued to echo. In 1949, the publishing house, Sheed and Ward, founded by Australian Frank Sheed and his English wife Maisie Ward, published France pagan? The mission of Henri Godin, a book that begins with a short biography followed by an adapted translation of France, pays de mission?

Although the world has changed greatly over the last 80 years, many of the questions posed by Godin and Daniel are of ongoing, even timeless relevance.

Fortunately, we still have the opportunity to discover them again via the several copies of the book are now available for borrowing online at The Internet Archive.

Stefan Gigacz


Henri Godin (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)