Monday, 28 September 2015

Henderson misunderstood the YCW: Bruce Duncan

Gerard Henderson misunderstood the significance of the YCW in his recent biography of BA Santamaria, argues Bruce Duncan in a review published on Inside Story.

 According to Duncan:

Henderson says that it “focused on individuals, especially the task of bringing lapsed Catholic workers back to the Church.” The YCW, he goes on, was “all very theoretical, time-consuming and timid. Not the kind of involvement to excite Santamaria.” But Cardijn’s vision was far more robust than that. The YCW was for young people, many of whom left school early. At work, they could form small groups to discuss social issues and how to engage with those issues in the light of their Gospel discussions. They then determined on action.

Because Cardijn highlighted the crucial need for practical action, the YCW trained young people to engage in civil issues on their own initiative. It was anti-communist, of course, but it kept apart from party politics, and its leaders resisted efforts by Santamaria to conscript its members into his Movement.

Read more here:

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Living the Cardijn message: Helen Jagoe

Helen Jagoe (Photo: Catholic Weekly)
Cardijn Joseph Cardijn "was a wonderful listener" who "very seldom spoke", according to former IYCW Secretary-General Helen Jagoe.

He “never, ever lost his interest in young people” from the time he founded the Young Christian Workers (YCW) to his death in 1967, Helen Jagoe, from Bathurst Australia told the Catholic Weekly.

She joined her local YCW at 18 and quickly rose through its ranks to become national secretary in Melbourne and later general secretary of the movement’s international secretariat in Brussels.

It was there she worked closely Cardinal Cardijn, then in his twilight years but still a “gentle, happy man” and devoted champion of the spiritual well-being of young workers.

“At the very beginning he used to stand outside the factory gates, and he’d see these kids walking out,” she says. The priest had watched children disappear from his congregation as soon as they were old enough to work.

He became concerned as he saw them exit factories, their faces aged with grime and fatigue, and their faith threatened by the crass secularism of industrial culture. “They were lost immediately when they went into the workplace,” Helen says.

To counteract the dehumanising nature of the workplace, he created the See, Judge, Act method, which called on young people to look at the world around them and understand it in the light of the Gospel, then to act accordingly to improve the situation.

He spent hours with young people asking them about their working conditions and job satisfaction, and relayed those messages to bishops around the world and members of the curia.

Unconcerned about Mass attendance or membership of religious societies, he challenged young people to be “apostles in the workplace”.

At its peak the YCW was active in 90 countries, including Australia, where it offered a range of services from employment support and language classes to sporting competitions.

In 1965 Cardinal Cardijn travelled to Australia on a visit that was meaningful not just for YCW members in Australia but also “for the Church”, Helen says.

No less a figure than Pope Paul VI earlier paid tribute to him at the closing of the Second Vatican Council when he noted “the good seed planted 50 years by several generous pioneers and particularly a young Belgian priest had truly yielded a hundredfold”.

Cardinal Cardijn’s death just two years later was a great shock for all his supporters, including Helen who was then based in Brussels.

“He was planning a trip to South America when he died. He had a bit of a cold and got the flu, he was in bed, then all of a sudden we heard he’d died of pneumonia.”

Helen was one of five YCW leaders in Brussels entrusted with planning the funeral.

At the time of his death Cardinal Cardijn was internationally recognised for his work with the YCW, and supporters from around the world attended the requiem Mass at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in the Brussels suburb of Koekelberg.

Though his death at 84 was a shock, “we didn’t miss him, because we knew his legacy so well”, Helen says.

“He was never there as a leader, he was always in the background.

“We went on living his message.”

Almost 50 years later, the movement still exists in Australia, but Helen believes a reform is needed to better appeal to the “frenetic lifestyle” of young people today.

“They never seem to stop to reflect because life doesn’t allow them to,” she says.

“It needs to be re-founded by young people for young people with young people, using the method but perhaps not the name – people today don’t recognise themselves as workers.”

Helen is hopeful the first step towards the canonisation of Cardinal Cardijn will trigger “a renewed interest in what he did - not the man but in his method”.


Sainthood process starts for cardinal of the workers (Catholic Weekly)

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Australian YCW Oral History Project

The Australian YCW and YCW Holdings have launched an oral history project that aims to record the history of the movement.

"The aim of the Project is to capture the life stories of people involved in the YCW and NCGM from its inception in Australia to 2010," writes project director Dr Melissa Walsh on the project website

"These recorded stories will be added to the YCW Archive, and will be a valuable resource for researchers and also for future YCW members.

"The Archive is seeking volunteers willing to conduct interviews in their home state, town and community with former members of the YCW.

"If you are interested in joining the Research Team as an interviewer, please send an email to or complete the Expression of Interest form below by April 11, 2014.

"A training Workshop for Interviewers will be held in Melbourne on May 3-4, 2014."

Read more:

PDFAustralian YCW - Oral History Project - Training Day 2014

Friday, 16 August 2013

Signs of the times: What are we doing?

Cardijn Community Australia has announced three workshops on the theme 'The signs of the times: What are we doing?"

The church is doing plenty, on many vital issues. But our world is changing rapidly. We need to look afresh.

Are there things occurring in our cities, towns and suburbs in 2013 that raise questions, create unease, or demand a response? Or perhaps good community initiatives with which the church could be more engaged? Where are the ‘peripheries’ that Pope Francis encourages us to be? And who is our neighbour anyway?

Whether you are aware of a particular need, or just have a sense that we as church could rejuvenate our engagement with the communities where we live, you are welcome to join us at these workshops.

They will not be lectures by experts. Rather, ordinary people will listen to each others’ ideas, discuss and investigate them further, and consider what actions might be feasible. Using Joseph Cardijn’s (the Church’s) ‘See Judge Act’ inquiry method, over three meetings we will discern the Signs of ‘our’ Times, reflect on these in the light of our Christian faith, and consider whether any concrete actions might be initiated.

Because the workshops will be metropolitan wide, they will enable (but not be limited to) consideration of issues that extend beyond a single parish.

After the three meetings we will discern whether there is the energy to continue meeting and developing actions.


When: 10.00 am – 12.00 midday, on the following Saturdays:

24th August
31st August
14th September

Where: Yarra Theological Union (St Paschal’s Franciscan Friary), 98 Albion Road, Box Hill

View Larger Map
  • Entry: via the footpath to the left of the church (see attached map)
  • Cars: use Albion Road entry to park.
  • Public Transport: Best option is a 4 minute journey on Route 733 Bus, which on Saturdays leaves Box Hill Railway Station on the half hour. Route map attached.


Cost: Gold coin donation for tea & coffee.

For further information, or if you need help with transport, contact David Moloney, Secretary Cardijn
Community Australia: 0417 704 427;

Monday, 8 July 2013

Malaysian 'barefoot co-operator' spellbinds audience

Race Mathews (l) with Paul Sinappan (r)

Some 35 people of different political and religious persuasions gathered yesterday at the Trades Hall Council in Melbourne on Saturday 6 July for a meeting organised by Cardijn Community Australia on community credit co-operatives in Asia and Australia

The event marked United Nations Day of the Co-operative.

The group listened spellbound to a powerful presentation by Paul Sinnappan Savriamuthu, Malaysia’s ‘barefoot co-operator’, as he told how a Young Christian Student group, children of impoverished Indian plantation workers, began a credit co-operative which loaned money for items such as a pencil or rubber. That initiative has now grown into a network of community-based credit co-operatives benefitting the homes, health, education and savings of over 64,000 families. Its volunteer leaders go beyond the financial issues to conduct Cardijn-styled ‘See Judge Act’ personal and social ‘inquiries’ within the co-operatives. Financial literacy, ‘family enrichment’, gender, children, youth, social sustainability (in contrast to welfare), local environmental issues, and local government (including ‘Peoples Parliaments’) are some of the issues that have emerged and are being very successfully addressed.

Malaysia’s Catholic Bishops later supported the development of this model among Hindu, Islamic, Buddhist and indigenous communities. Paul has also been engaged by NGOs to teach this model around South-East, East and Central Asia and the Subcontinent, as well as into North America. In China they adapted a popular microfinancing program already underway to ensure that its (women) members accumulate savings and equity in addition to the access to credit provided by the Grameen Bank model. Scores of community banks are now in existence as a result.

It is a model of civil society, whose objectives of ‘Planet People Profit’ defend the poor against both exploiting big capitalism and controlling communism. Paul is documenting his method in the Tamil language, which we plan to translate into English and make available.

Perspectives from the local scene included Cate O’Dwyer’s story of the Fitzroy & Carlton Community Credit Co-operative, begun by the Brotherhood of St Laurence in 1977, which developed a very successful sustainable (in contrast to welfare) model for pensioners, but which folded a few weeks ago. It was one of the last small credit co-operatives in Victoria (most started in Catholic parishes by the YCW) to have collapsed under the crushing pressure of increased government regulation in the wake of the 1990 Pyramid Building Society collapse (the 1996 Wallis Inquiry). Many have been absorbed into Bankmecu.

As a result of the increasingly complex task of beginning local credit co-operatives, some no-interest loan schemes have emerged to fill the need for credit. Kevin Vaughan told of one hugely successful no-interest loan scheme established in the working class Catholic parish of St Albans to help Middle Eastern and then Sudanese refugees. It was funded initially by a $15,000 donation by the St Vincent de Paul Society, a few local benefactors, and the monthly contributions of 120 parishioners.

Jacques Boulet told of a renaissance in co-operative training occurring in post-GFC Britain, centred on the Manchester’s ‘Co-op College’, and development of accredited co-operative training underway at the Borderlands Co-operative in Melbourne. Sarah Taylor told of her involvement with a Women’s Paper Making Co-operative in a Nepalese village, and the educational initiatives it made possible in the community.

Dr Race Mathews noted that in addition to legislative and political pressures, a problem had been the explosive historical expansion in community credit co-operatives had been associated with a decline in members with co-operative skills. Eventually many co-op were abandoned to finance industry professionals (some of whom had been hire purchase managers); the co-operative culture was lost.

Broader issues raised by Dr Mathews and others included Australia’s recent loss of co-operative ‘institutional memory’ and international disconnect, and the related crisis in education and training. The importance of worker and client ownership, and building links between different types of co-operatives were raised. Scrutiny of an apparently promising but as yet unsighted Federal template for co-operatives, and seeing to an appropriate mutualist peak body are two of a number of tasks awaiting co-operative advocates.

Possibilities for advocacy and development of niche credit co-operatives will be followed up, initially by further on-line communication between participants, and future meetings. If you would like to join us, contact David Moloney on

View a Flickr photo gallery of the event below.

Or if your browser fails to load the photo gallery, please click here to view:

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Co-op workshop: Bank on something better - with barefoot co-operation

United Nations International Day of the Co-operative

Community Finance – Community Development:
What Australia can learn from Asia’s Credit Co-ops

Begun with the pennies of impoverished plantation workers, Malaysia now has a credit co-op network of over 64,000 families. These operate in small groups, which regularly reflect not only on the financial, but also the social and increasingly the political conditions of their members’ lives. These inquiries guide the co-ops’ ‘community’ dividend into programs for financial literacy, family life & gender issues, and environmental sustainability.

Is there any need to revive grassroots credit co-operatives in Australia? Are there particular groups that might benefit? What can we learn from Asia?

You are invited to celebrate the UN Day of the Co-operative as Paul Sinnapan Savriamuthu summarises the Malaysian method and achievements, followed by brief responses from a number of local co-operators. There will then be general discussion by delegates. The Hon Dr Race Mathews, prominent mutualist advocate, will offer some concluding thoughts on the discussion and key issues. 

When: 2.30 – 4.30 pm, Saturday 6th July 2013

Where: Evatt Room, Trades Hall Council, Lygon Street Carlton

Cost: Free.

Paul Sinnapan Savriamuthu: Malaysia’s ‘barefoot co-operator’
Jacques Boulet: co-founder of Borderlands co-operative
Sarah Taylor: young founder of co-operative enterprises in a Nepalese village
Kevin Vaughan: founder of a suburban no-interest-loan scheme for refugees
Cate O’Dwyer: board-member of the former Fitzroy Carlton Community Credit Co-op

Cardijn Community Australia Inc.

For further information contact David Moloney on 0417 704 427, or

Monday, 24 June 2013

Memories of Paul Mees

I first became aware of Paul around 1988 when he wrote a Catholic Worker review of a history I had written of Sacred Heart St Kilda. I can’t remember where I first met him. I was a member of the Public Transport Users Association, where he was President for some time. He was involved to a limited extent (it was mainly with Patrick O’Connor of the PTUA) in a campaign against the closure of the St Kilda and Port Melbourne railway lines.

By the early 1990s we were on a committee working to save the Central Catholic Library. Established by Fr William Hackett SJ in 1924 it was now in the doldrums and its exceptional collection of books, and vision, were threatened. A mission statement and brochures for the new ‘Caroline Chisholm Library’ were prepared, a school poster competition launched, and a seminar arranged with members of the 1930s Campion Society to hear of their pioneering endeavours in lay Catholic social engagement and mission. Paul was also keen to launch less formal regular Tuesday evening discussions to introduce Catholicism to nearby university students, some of whom were spiritually curious, or interested in social issues about which the church had said and done quite a bit more than they realised. But the development of an acquisitions policy exposed deep differences in the committee, with some opposed to literature on contemporary ‘social’ issues, or anything whose orthodoxy might in any way be questioned. Arriving at the 1994 AGM it suddenly became apparent that there had been a surprisingly dramatic increase in membership. At the meeting Paul, myself and two others (including a Catholic Women’s League member) were replaced by National Civic Council and Thomas More Centre members. As a lawyer, Paul was of the opinion that the coup was unconstitutional, and in typical style he was set to change the doors locks. Also in typical style, he acquiesced to his supporters’ ingenuous appeal (citing 1 Corinthians 6:1-7) to seek church mediation instead. The new CCL committee wasn’t so scrupulous: after the window to legal appeal closed we eked out its view that going to mediation had never been agreed.

Neither was the more ‘progressive’ side of the church immune from his critique, for example those with a propensity to easily dispense with traditions such as statues. His interest in traditional architecture surfaced in his support of the campaign to rebuild the burnt out St Josephs church in Collingwood.

From his observations on campuses, his own tertiary YCS experience, and his sociological readings of Fr Andrew Greely and others, he concluded (years before professional research had arrived at the same conclusion) that school leavers and young adults could be attracted to attend Mass, but on Sunday evening rather than Saturday evening or Sunday morning. This and other more provocative insights were included in a dazzling 13 page paper entitled ‘Where are all the Young Adults’, which he presented to the priest of his youthful inner city parish. Not a word of response was received, and it was not heard of again.

His forensic and fearless academic and public advocacy regarding public transport originated I believe in his concern for the poor, the sick, the young, and the elderly who were dispossessed by our practise of planning cities and transport systems around the motor car. He was a noted international authority on public transport, but chose to stay in Melbourne to fight the cause, where he was sometimes accused, with a fair degree of annoyance and sometimes jealousy, of intemperance. His colourful flourishes, no doubt designed to interest the media, were in my view essentially the result of his awareness of the powerful vested interests, and the spin of some in the public service and government, that conspired against change. They were not some crude need to amuse; I don’t believe anyone who knew him could contend that his satire was born of self-aggrandisement. Many would just call it honesty.

Fellow-activists were initially alarmed to hear him call them ‘comrade’. He was unafraid of being described as a ratbag. His participation with a bike-riding PTUA member in bringing Federal Court action against CityLink, essentially for constraining competing road and public transport routes to the airport, created considerable consternation for the company which was in the process of public listing. Its attempt to charge him for costs resulted in him scurrying around under cover of a network of sympathisers to successfully avoid being served a court order.

"His mastery of a range of topics was amazing, from high theology to train timetables. His reading was prodigious; one of the projects he had planned was a book in response to Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion." 

Essentially, he valued truth, and justice. Layer after layer of evidence would be built up, and occasionally (where necessary I submit) topped off with satire, to establish an apparently irrefutable case. In the end his brilliance just seemed common sense.

His company was not only stimulating, but always pleasant and respectful. For a volatile world, and church, he was a siren of sanity and insight that we could ill afford to ignore. I think of him as a Catholic hero. 

- David Moloney

I first met Paul Mees at a conference organised by the Australian YCW at the old Manly seminary in Sydney in 1987. I think that was about the time that he was working or about to start work for Maurice Blackburn, the Labor law firm in Melbourne. But when I met him he was active with the Tertiary (University) YCS movement of that era.

Later, I followed his career from afar as he got involved in transport issues, helping transform the old Train Travellers Association into the activist lobby group the Public Transport Users Association.

By the time I next met him he was a Melbourne University academic, who showed me documents from the 1920s illustrating what a great public transport system - a genuine "metro" - Melbourne once had.

In 2007, he joined Kevin Vaughan and myself as we met to launch what has now become the Cardijn Community Australia.

Vale Paul, one of the great lay apostles of the Cardijn tradition.

Stefan Gigacz