A model jocist president

Today is the birth anniversary of the early Belgian and international jocist leader, Emilie Arnould, born on 27 January 1906.

Cardijn himself recognised her leadership capacities early on, recruiting her as a full-time worker for the Belgian JOCF. After World War II, Cardijn called on her again to assist in developing the YCW international secretariat in Brussels.

Later, she played a key role in establishing Pax Christi International as its secretary general before becoming deputy secretary of the International Federation of Christian Labour Movements.

Sadly, however, I cannot find a photo of her! The above photo is taken from the cover of Joie et Travail (Joy and Work), the magazine of the Belgian JOCF (Girls YCW).

In any event, it seems appropriate to take a text from Emilie herself for our reflection today.

This is a short obituary she wrote in 1932 to mourn the passing of another young worker leader, Marie-Thérèse Joos:


It seems like only yesterday that I met her for the first time. She had come to us, spontaneously, to offer herself completely to Workers’ Catholic Action… Very young,… was she 18, barely 19? She offered herself all vibrant and enthusiastic, desiring to devote all her youth to the raising up of young women workers.

And as she began to better understand our technique of modern apostolate among the working masses, our work literally transported her.

She was not one of those who fears the masses,… on the contrary,… the more a young worker was morally isolated, the further she came, the weaker she was and the more she loved her, understood her, supported her.. She didn’t just help her, she became a genuine friend.

And people say that the more she herself lived through the YCW, the more she formed herself and the more her heart and her aspirations led her entirely towards the understanding of the young workers of the great masses.

Remarkably intelligent, she was not satisfied with having a simple personal influence which she knew how to exert admirably,… but she also understood the great importance of our collective achievements in working-class neighbourhoods and workplaces.

She also had to organise her apostolate well, while giving herself to it without measure, in order to succeed in a few years in completely transforming a YCW section that previously comprises only a few members into an ardent and valiant section of 62 members and this in an extremely difficult environment.

Although she was still very young, she had a very strong character: she knew how to be young and lively, but lively as well as serious, and welcoming and understanding when necessary.

Her family background, which was a modest Christian background, where people were generally favourable to workers’ organisations, had indirectly prepared her to come to us.

How many times, in the evening, very late after the meetings, when I was still her “regional secretary” did we talk together of the most beautiful dreams and built the most beautiful projects that sooner or later would bring the working masses back to the Church in the very difficult Centre region.

And already now, I’m sure that up there, she’s in the process of realising these dreams. She prays for us asking Our Lord to give us that ardent faith which moves mountains.

Just a month before her death, I received a letter in which she told me of all her plans for the formation of six sisters. And she thanked God profusely for having allowed her to be born in the 20th century and for having chosen her to be a militant in the JOCF.

But even more than that, she was truly a model president while remaining 100% jocist even in following the most humble and most modest requests. During her last illness, she kept repeating: “I want to be 100% jocist in everything.”

She died abruptly just 2 1/2 months after her mother. For her too, her last gesture was a forgetfulness of herself.

It was Easter Sunday and just a few hours before she died, she did not want her daughter to stay with her, but sent her out to preside over the big Easter lunch at the JOCF.

Marie-Thérèse has gone: her life completely “offered” just as she had lived… In her delirium, she often repeated this sentence which sums it all up: “I am given, totally given.”

She had loved Our Lord so simply, so naively and so spontaneously that it seemed so natural.

Like a luminous ray of vibrant youth, she will long appear as a model to all our leaders.

There are leaders of our local sections who are a wonder to us, national leaders, who find in them a comfort, a stimulus and a consolation that surpasses all human rewards.

Emilie Arnould


Joie et Travail (Joy and Work), N° 8, August 1934

In this beautiful appreciation of the life of young Marie-Thérèse Joos, we can see the essentials of what makes a great YCW leader.

And we can perhaps also see a reflection of Emilie Arnould and what she taught Marie-Thérèse.


Stefan Gigacz

Read more

Emilie Arnould (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

Emilie Arnould, Marie-Therese Joos (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library/Jocist Women’s Biographical Dictionary)