Australia: An unrivalled land of apostolic opportunity

Today is the birth anniversary of Patrick Keegan, the English YCW leader who became the first president of the International YCW.

Later he became Secretary General of World Movement of Christian Workers, a post he held during the period of the Second Vatican Council where he became a lay auditor and was the first lay person to address an Ecumenical Council.

For today’s reflection, I’ve chosen a radio message that he broadcast to Australia in June 1951 for the tenth anniversary of the movement.

He began by expressing his appreciation for the Australian YCW leaders and chaplains he had met, including Fr Frank Lombard, Terry Barber, Frank McCann and Ted Long.

“Our Headquarters without an Australian just doesn’t seem to be complete,” he commented. “All of us ever here remember with a deep and profound gratitude the comradeship of those Australians who shared with us the difficulties of war.”

He noted the spread of the YCW around the world, particularly the English-speaking world and he recalled the 1950 International Congress of the YCW in Brussels, which demonstrated the belief and conviction of YCW leaders “in that fundamental and universal truth, that lies at the very heart of our work and effort in the YCW – the dignity of the young worker.”

He continued:

We believe with our heart and soul that every working fellow and girl without a single exception, irrespective of their colour or country is called to an eternal destiny and vocation as a son or daughter of God – not an animal – not a machine, but a person possessing a magnificent vocation. We further believe that anything in his life of home, work or neighbourhood that hinders him from discovering or attaining this tremendous vocation constitutes the problem that he must solve.

This truth is a universal truth to which there cannot be the slightest exception. It is true for the Negro, the Chinese, the Hindu, the Japanese just as it is for the whites. It is the truth least understood or apparently only understood as a principle to be applied in a selective way. At this hour of history, it is the truth which if practically applied to men and institutions can change and transform the world.

He saw Australia as having a chance to avoid the mistakes of Europe and to build something genuinely new:

For those engaged in the apostolate in Europe, everything points to Australia, being an unrivalled land of apostolic opportunity. Australia is seen as a nation where men are still free to build institutions and public life on Christian principles, untrammelled by the relics or backwash of the barbarian that accompanied the rise of industrialism in the countries of Europe

Seeing the results of industrialism in Europe – the black spots of its inhuman production, unjust distribution and exhausting labour, one must believe that in a country like yours free to choose the pattern of future construction, that the mistakes of Europe can be avoided.

And he set out his vision of the role the YCW could play:

Our task in the YCW is to produce through home, neighbourhood, school and work, men and women capable of building a Christian society – men and women willing to accept as a great privilege all the personal sacrifice entailed by this most practical work.

We know this will only be possible by following working youth at this very moment into the heart of their real life – giving them the means to discover not only their own place and responsibility in Christ’s plan, hut the place of their factory, neighbourhood, mine and office.

Our movement is the university for working youth, where we can discover the meaning and purpose of our life – where we can discover more and more the Christian conception of work, leisure and community – a conception lived and made real and not remaining in the realm of theory. Through our work in the movement we must discover the Christian “ideal of life”. An ideal when grasped will never allow a flinching at difficulties.

In Europe the YCW has faced an industrial set up based on the conception of men as a commodity – a means of production. Far too much of our work has been spent in bringing remedies to the effects of a system basically wrong in conception.

Fortunately, in your country you now stand at the threshold of great industrial development. You can plan it in the way that you wish. It must be planned on the basis of the Christian (conception) of the human person. In order that this may be done, Australia needs at this very moment men and women with profound Christian convictions willing to give themselves to this task, willing to share in the making and execution of these plans on which so much will depend for the future.

A Christian Australia is a worthwhile target for all members of the YCW. A Christian Australia is vital for the whole Pacific world. One knows that millions of people in the Far East are hungrily looking for an ideal of life pressed down as they are by an economic and social misery unknown in such intensity in Europe, it is in this setting that Australia must take her responsibility as the torch bearer of Christian values – geographically set as she is the spring board for the Far East.

Strangely enough and sadly, Pat never visited Australia.

Nevertheless, on this anniversary of his birth, let us remember him and his challenge to become conscious of our responsibilities as Australians in the world.

Stefan Gigacz


Patrick Keegan, Australian Broadcast 26.6.51 (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library/Pat Keegan)


Patrick Keegan (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

Missionaries of the Interior

St Therese of Lisieux would be 150 today if she was still alive. She was born on this day in 1873 in Alencon, France. But why would this be of interest to people today? Pope Pius XI proclaimed her to be the patroness of Catholic Action when Fr Joseph Cardijn took the JOC leaders on a pilgrimage to Rome in September, 1929. Pope Pius XI described all Jocists as “missionaries of the interior” and presented each pilgrim with a medallion in honour of St Therese of Lisieux, whom he had named as the patron saint of missionaries. 

St Therese had a missionary heart. She wrote in her journal, which was later published as Story of a Soul: “I would be a Missionary, not for a few years only, but, were it possible, from the beginning of the world till the consummation of time. ” She never left the Carmelite convent she entered. Her missionary work was done through walking with missionaries given to her as “brothers” by her superior. 

In 1937, Fr Joseph Cardijn preached at the Eucharistic Congress held in Lisieux. In his homily, he said “… may Saint Thérèse of Lisieux obtain that this National Congress, this Eucharistic Congress, facilitates a Eucharistic renewal among all workers in France and among all workers in the world for their own happiness and for universal peace.” The celebration of the Eucharist is essential to the life and work of all missionaries, including those whose mission is to those they meet each day in the workplace.

If we listen with a missionary heart to the Gospel for the Mass of January 2, then we will hear John the Baptist describe himself as “a voice that cries in the wilderness: Make a straight way for the Lord” (John 1:23). He was quoting the prophet Isaiah. All prophets are apostles; they are sent by God to announce his kingdom on earth. This is their mission. Indeed, it is the mission of all who seek to follow Christ. Like the apostles we meet in the Gospel, like St Therese of Lisieux and like Fr Joseph Cardijn, we, too, announce through the way we live as disciples of Jesus, “make a straight way for the Lord.” 

Missionary work is not accomplished without preparation, without prayer and reflection. John the Baptist would have spent years preparing for his few short years of proclaiming the coming of God’s kingdom. Jesus spent thirty years preparing for his mission, which lasted just three years. He handed on his mission to his disciples, who also spend years preparing for their part in the mission. The Eucharistic renewal that Fr Joseph Cardijn called for during the homily he preached in the Cathedral in Lisieux on July 10, 1937 is the heart of the mission of all workers, indeed, of all people.

The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council described the Eucharist as “the source and summit of the Christian life” (Lumen Gentium, 11). This, then, must be the change that is sought by all missionaries, including those engaged in mission in the workplace. We seem so far away from this in Australia today, where only about eight percent of Catholics celebrate the Eucharist regularly. So, how do we change this? How do we “make a straight way for the Lord” in the workplace and in our homes? 

We start with ourselves, with our relationship with Jesus and what we share with him. How does going to Mass affect our lives? How does it show in our relationships with our family, our friends and those we meet and work with in the community? Here is a simple action that can be done at the same time each day: in prayer, join Jesus on the altar as he offers himself to the Father for all people for all time.

Pat Branson


Joseph Cardijn, Sermon at the Lisieux Eucharistic Congress 1937 (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)