Léon Ollé-Laprune: Philosopher of the see-judge-act

In a note dated 1955, Cardijn made a list of the key reading he had done at various stages of his life.

Among the authors he read between 1902 and 1904 when he was aged 18-20 studying philosophy and theology at the Malines major seminary, he cites the French philosopher, Léon Ollé-Laprune (1839-1898), a promoter of the lay apostolate and disciple of Society of St Vincent de Paul founder, Frédéric Ozanam.

And today marks the 125th anniversary of Ollé-Laprune’s premature death at the age of 58 on 13 February 1898.

But why was Cardijn interested in his writings and what did he learn?

One answer, perhaps, lies in Ollé-Laprune’s deep influence on the development of Marc Sangnier’s democratic lay movement, Le Sillon (The Furrow), which also had such a great influence on Cardijn.

“He understood our plans almost as soon as we did, and approved them from the beginning,” wrote the Sillon leader and seminarian, Albert Lamy in an obituary for Ollé-Laprune. “One of his books provided us with our motto, his friendship stayed with us constantly.”

That motto, borrowed by Ollé-Laprune from Plato, was “il faut aller au vrai avec toute son âme” – “we have to seek the truth with our whole soul.”

Lamy explained this with a quote from Ollé-Laprune’s most famous book, Le Prix de la vie, which translates into English as either “The price or the prize of life,” a double meaning that expresses both the cost and value of a fully-lived life:

I will philosophise with my whole self, in an atmosphere completely impregnated with Christianity. I philosophise as a thinking man, a living man, a complete man, and a Christian.

In other words, no division between faith and life, a fully lived Christianity that closely resembles Cardijn’s understanding and even foreshadows Pope Francis’ key concept of “integral human development.” (Laudato Si’)

But how to achieve this integral human and Christian development?

Ollé-Laprune also provided an answer to this in a talk entitled La virilité intellectuelle that he presented to students in Lyon in 1896:

Gentlemen, it remains for us to consider what our era demands of us in particular, and what a young man who thinks like a man needs to do at the present time.

In order to think in a virile manner, I believe we need to possess three qualities: we must be able to see clearly, we must be able to judge, and we must be able to decide.

As Ollé-Laprune also recognised, this was a challenge:

To see clearly is not easy; to judge, that is to say, as Bossuet said, “to pronounce within oneself with respect to what is true and what is false,” is perhaps even more difficult; to decide, it seems, is the most difficult thing in the world for some people: even when the premises are there, which call, which claim, which impose a conclusion, they cannot decide or conclude.

But, Gentlemen, one must know how to dare what so many men do not have the courage to do: to see clearly, to judge and to conclude.

And by conclude or decide he meant taking action. To quote Albert Lamy again:

His latest books never end without immediately practical considerations and advice as well as encouragement to continual, daily action.

As we can see then, Ollé-Laprune was foreshadowing the see-judge-act that Cardijn himself would soon make famous and that Pope Francis would also adopt as a way of achieving integral human and Christian development.

It’s also why I believe that Léon Ollé-Laprune can also be justly called “the philosopher of the see-judge-act.”


Stefan Gigacz


Léon Ollé-Laprune (www.olle-laprune.net /Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

Stefan Gigacz, Léon Ollé-Laprune, Philosopher and Lay Apostle

Joseph Cardijn, My reading (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

Le Sillon (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

Saving the Planet


Our home is in trouble. Extreme weather events wreak havoc in communities around the globe. Habitats are destroyed and many species face extinction. Even human civilisation is threatened. The rapid advances made in technology in the modern era are accompanied by human ignorance and greed. Early in his papacy, Pope Francis warned the world about failing to take care of our planet. He called for the ecological conversion of communities around the world so that all people work together to care for our common home. 

Nearly sixty years before he published Laudato Si’ in 2015, Fr Joseph Cardijn addressed the World Congress for the Lay Apostolate, which had gathered in Rome, in October 1951. He spoke about the advances in technology as transformations of society and he said that ‘it is for lay people to surmount the dangers which they bring.’ We currently experience on so many fronts the dangers to which he referred and they are more than he was aware of when he delivered his keynote address. 

Like so many other lay people in our common home, I learn about our planet in a piecemeal fashion. Most of my knowledge is reactionary, and I often feel out of control of the learning process as I bounce from one concept or occurrence to another. To seek ecological conversion, I must become intentional in learning about this home we share and how to work with others for the good of our common home.


I am a Catholic and an active member of my parish. And while I have started making an effort to be responsible for the country where I live, I am troubled by my lack of effort to engage with those I worship with every Sunday on the call to collective action to save our planet. The Gospel reading for the Mass for January 6 (Mark 1:6-11) is about Jesus being affirmed and confirmed in his mission on the occasion of his baptism by John in the Jordan River. When a person is baptised with the Holy Spirit (the sacrament of Baptism), they are commissioned to work for the good of all. They receive the grace they need to respond to the promptings of the Spirit.

Pope Francis describes people as “protectors of God’s handiwork.” In an ideal world, the lay people of a parish would see as part of their mission to work together to address the issue of climate change and its impact on the community and on the world. Their actions would signal their ecological conversion. The parish priest would encourage them and lead them in prayer and worship, as well as participating in practical ways, such as learning with his parishioners how to live responsibly with climate change.


For the ideal to become the reality, the parish I belong to will have to start talking about the impact of climate change on our lives and on the world and how to respond to the call for the ecological conversion of our parish community. Up to this point in time, no one has raised the issue so that it is communicated when people gather for Mass. The silence on this issue is disturbing.

So I will commit myself to bringing about this change. I will approach our parish pastoral council and ask for the opportunity to address them about Pope Francis’ call to us to be “protectors of God’s handiwork.” Fortunately, the Church leads the way in creating experiences for ecological conversion through the Laudato Si’ Action Platform, which was established by the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. We are not alone.

About Pat Branson

I am an Aussie Catholic, married and living in Western Australia in the presence of God. I have been involved in Catholic education for most of my life, teaching and leading in the field of religious education. I quit the classroom at the end of 2020 and am now engaged in research and writing, something that I started in my postgraduate studies. For almost two-thirds of my life, I have been influenced by Cardinal Joseph Cardijn through the movements he founded, particularly the YCS. I hope this reflection bears testimony to the good work done forming me by Jocists young and old.


Pope Francis, Laudato Si’ (Vatican.va)

Daily Mass Readings, 6 January 2023 (USCCB)