Was Cardijn a “worker priest”?

Was Cardijn a “worker priest”? Not a question that’s ever occurred to me before. Why would it have?

After all, the “worker priests” were mainly French priests, including many YCW chaplains, from the 1940s onwards, who decided and sought permission to carry on their presybteral ministries while working in factories, in dockyards, etc.

Hence, the title of Oscar Cole-Arnal’s book, “Prêtres en bleu de chauffe,” translated as “Priests in working-class blue.”

That generation of priests is now disappearing and in any case are certainly no longer working in those industries to which they committed themselves.

More recently, however, there are perhaps a few signs of the emergence of a new generation of worker priests.

In the French city of Lille, which was the seedbed of the first generation, YCW chaplain, Fr Lionel Vandenbriele, works fulltime as a paramedic, an ambulance worker.

“While studying Church history, I had to do an essay on the worker priests,” he explained. “That challenged me. Afterwards, while at the seminary, I was sent to work in a factory at Nordlys à Bailleul for two years.

“I felt a lack of opportunities to meet people outside the Church as well as a gap with the young people of my own generation who were working. I wanted to share the life of the people.”

“My thoughts ranged from becoming a baker to becoming a specialised educator. After doing an evaluation of my capacities, I found that I was best suited for the medical or paramedical sector.

“I asked for authorisation from my bishop, who accepted. So it became a project of the Church. The whole Church is involved with me in this focus on the world of work,” Fr Lionel said.

Which brings me back to Cardijn, who during the summer of 1907 was sent by his own bishop, Cardinal Désiré Mercier, to teach Latin at a minor seminary.

There he spent those years working as a school teacher before finally taking up a fulltime priestly ministry in the parish of Our Lady at Laeken in 1912.

Certainly, a minor seminary has little in common with a coal mine or a steel factory. Nevertheless, are teachers not workers in the same way that paramedics are workers?

Perhaps we’re moving back to the example of St Paul, who proudly continued his own profession as a tentmaker.

In any event, the demarcation line between the roles of priest and worker is no longer as clearcut as it once may have seemed, even to Cardijn, who arguably did indeed, at least by today’s standards, start out as a worker priest.

Stefan Gigacz


A new worker priest for the diocese of Lille (Cardijn.info)



News cutting about a film on the French worker priests. Click on image for larger view.

Source: http://php88.free.fr/bdff/film/0026/03.jpg