Educating school leavers

Today is the feast day of St John Neumann (1811-1860), the Czech-born American Redemptorist who devoted much of his life to establishing parish schools. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, he was devoted to education and was “the first ecclesiastic to organise a diocesan school system in the United States.” Neumann was eventually canonised in 1977 as the first U.S. male saint.

Whereas Neumann was concerned with developing schools, Cardijn consecrated his life to the education of young workers who had left the school system.

Indeed, a pivotal moment in young Cardijn’s life came when he returned home after his first year in the minor seminary to discover that his former schoolmates now viewed him as an enemy and class traitor.

As he later wrote:

I was then thirteen and it was at that age that I made my first discovery of the problem of working youth. When I returned on holidays from the minor seminary, my little comrades from school and First Communion, who were more intelligent and more pious than me, were obliged to go to the factories and to work. I found them corrupted, opposed to the Church, no longer wanting anything to do with me.

It was a knife blow in my heart. I searched for the causes of this loss and corruption and promised to devote myself to saving them. I began my first enquiries in the factories and the neighbouring communes and I never ever abandoned them in Belgium and overseas for the rest of my life.

Yet, if Cardijn were alive today, what would he think today of the situation of young workers, particularly school leavers?


How many young people from your parish or local community have just completed their school education and started work or looking for work?

What challenges do they face in their new lives?

Is the Church accompanying these school leavers and young workers in facing these challenges?


What are those young workers’ experiences of the Church?

Is it similar to or different from the experience of school leavers in Cardijn’s time?

What outreach does your parish provide for those young workers?

Is there a YCW group in your area?

Or is there any other youth ministry program specifically trying to reach and assist young workers?


How could we assist those young workers starting their adult working lives?

Could we organise a school leavers event in our school? Or in our parish?


Stefan Gigacz worked for the Australian YCW in Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney and later for the International YCW in Asia, Europe, Africa and Latin America. He is currently secretary of the Australian Cardijn Institute.


St John Ne (Encyclopaedia Britannica)

Joseph Cardijn, Background (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)


Antonio Gusmao, USAID (Pixnio)