Remembering the legendary YCW extension worker, René Delécluse

Today is the 20th anniversary of the death of legendary French YCW leader and International YCW extension worker, René Delécluse.

So many people I met while I worked for the IYCW in Asia during the late 1980s spoke to me of him and clearly had great personal memories of the man he was.

Sadly, I never met him.

But this excellent article on the French labor history website, Maitron, gives us a glimpse into who he was.

Stefan Gigacz

DELÉCLUSE René, Louis, Auguste

Born on 1 November, 1924 in Roubaix (Nord), died 4 May, 2003 in Roubaix; YCW fulltime worker in France (1946-1955), extension worker for the International YCW in India and South-East Asia (1956-1967);  Socialist assistant mayor of Villiers-sur-Marne (Val-de-Marne) from 1977 to 1983; Director of the National Federation of Home Help (1982-1987).

The parents of René Delécluse, who was the second of their three children, were at first caretakers at a spinning factory. His father, a typographer, who was an activist in the Fresnoy district of Roubaix, became a printer; his mother, a very religious woman, worked in a clothing factory before becoming a homemaker. René Delécluse attended a local Catholic school. A clarinet player, he was to show a very lively taste for classical music and jazz throughout his life.

Employed at the Société de Filature de Tourcoing from 1939 to 1943, except for the period of (wartime) exodus to Berck (Pas-de-Calais), he experienced a revelation of a religious nature whil reading Maxence Van der Meersch’s L’Élu (The Chosen One). He joined the YCW, revived the section in his neighbourhood, soon became its president and set up a theater troupe, the Joan of Arc Drama Club, in his parish.

His father then took him on at his printing press, initiating a financial partnership that lasted several years: the salary received by the son for what was actually a fictitious job left him free for his YCW commitments. This was the way in which he was able to spend almost a year in the United Kingdom as a prelude to his departure for India. Federal YCW President from December 1944 to 1948, then responsible for the “Côte” – the Dunkirk, Boulogne, Saint-Omer, Bergues, etc. coastal region – following France’s Liberation, René Delécluse worked very closely with Eugène Descamps, president of the Lille YCW, and with René Salanne, another fulltimer YCW worker, who would later help him reintegrate into French society on his return from his work in Asia .

In 1947, he joined the General Secretariat in Paris where he was responsible for young apprentices. Suffering from tuberculosis, he went to convalesce in a religious house in Saint-Pélagiberg (Switzerland), where he met Jeannette Dussartre, who was then head of the National Federation of Young Workers. A romance seemed to be developing, however, not without hesitation, René chose celibacy. As a fulltime national YCW worker until 1953, he was responsible for the “action at work” program as well as for the metallurgy sector in Paris. He followed this with a brief work placement at Citroën.

Having placed himself at the service of a “demanding spirituality of divestment”, he left to develop the YCW movement by organising training sessions for leaders, young people and adults, in Asian countries: India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and Singapore. It was in 1956 that he took his first steps in India as a trainee investigator for the World Association of Youth (WAY), an international umbrella body for youth movements. His task there was to provide young workers with support and a dynamic to break out of servitude. “Doesn’t my work for the YCW here have an evangelising aspect?” he asked. “To work with India, to gradually open hearts, develop their aspirations, and enable them to become capable of solving the missionary problems of India on their own.”

Backed by the International YCW, René Delécluse was to work as an extension worker, in other words as an expert/jocist development worker, to assist the movements that had already been created in India, in the province of Madurai, Madras (now Chennai) and Bombay (now Mumba). Accompanying him was Yvonne Tap, ex-national secretary of the French Girls YCW, who went to Madras for four years. From 1956, he traveled more than five thousand kilometers, in voluntarily precarious conditions, to take stock of the approximately thirty Indian Jocist sections that then existed. YCW founder, Father Cardjin, approved of his work and visited India several times.

Returning to France in 1958, René Delécluse had to wait a long time without work before finally a new visa for India, enabling him to return to Asia in January 1959. There he became responsible for completing the training of local leadres and above all for studying how better to implement the YCW’s educational mission in India while respecting the past, the traditions and the psychology of local peoples. Introduced to journalism, before his departure, in the Bayard Presse group, he became a correspondent for La Croix and eleven different newspapers in Pakistan, Ceylon, Malaysia and Singapore, for four months, before giving up this job as being incompatible with his role as a YCW leader.

A member of the IYCW Study Commission for Asia, he made prospective visits to Indonesia, Sarawak and Brunei in 1960, and contributed to developing a better understanding of the continent. In 1958-1959, he helped organised Cardjin’s second visit to Madras, Ceylon and Malaysia, as well as the first national gathering of Indian YCW leaders in Bandel (Calcutta, now Kolkata).

During that period, he spoke of his vocation as that of a “lay apostle” working to “set up a workers’ apostolate in Asia”. Among his favourite books was Au coeur des masses (At the heart of the masses) by Father René Voillaume.

In 1962, René Delécluse returned to France after four years of intense work. He travelled to Singapore the following year for the launch of John XXIII’s encyclical Pacem in Terris and accompanied Pope Paul VI to Bombay in December 1964. He visited Bangkok again in November-December 1965 for the Third International Council of the YCW, which was held in a predominantly Buddhist country for the first time. However, he did not speak, in order to allow the Asian participants to take the lead.

After this, he made a series of short visits as a “tourist”, without obtaining a residence permit. In Malaysia, he took part in the effort to train young people in school-to-work “camps”. Close to union activists and leaders, he worked in 1965 to launch sections of an organsation known as the “Christian Families/Social Movement” (CFSM). In 1964, he also assisted with the foundation of the Christian Workers Movement among ex-YCW leaders in Bangalore (India).

Because of illness, he turned down an opportunity to become Secretary General of the World Movement of Christian Workers, which was suggested to him by Cardjin in 1966. René Delécluse finally left Asia for good in 1967, as he had planned, “otherwise they will never feel responsible”. He left Bombay on 10 August, still hitchhiking, and the man who had become “an icon” discreetly participated in the World Congress of the Lay Apostolate in October of that year.

Living temporarily at the YCW secretariat in Paris, René Delécluse took care of the “jocist popular service” until January 1968. He went through a difficult period of disconnection: “Asia cut my ties with French society,” he said.

With the assistance of his friend Alfred Martinache, another former YCW fulltimer worker, he found a fulltime job with links to the Third World as the person responsible for training sessions for international volunteers at the Institut de recherche et de formation éducation et développement (Institute for research and training in education and development) (IRFED), which was founded by Father Louis Joseph Lebret.

In 1968, René Delécluse moved to Villiers-sur-Marne. As a member of the local PSU Socialist Party), he became close to its leader André Jondeau and was an admirer of Pierre Mendès France and Michel Rocard. He became involved in the PSU’s Third World Commission following the Épinay Congres and also became secretary of his local PSU branch. He was a candidate in the 1977 municipal elections of 1977 for the Union de la gauche (Left Union) led by the socialist Serge Delaporte, and was elected deputy mayor of his commune, in charge of finance, from 1977 to 1983.

A contributor to the magazine Faim et Développement (Hunger and Development) from 1968, René Delécluse joined the Catholic Committee against Hunger and for Development (CCFD) in 1971. He was responsible for the magazine until 1978 as well as for development projects in Bangladesh. Following this, he became commercial attaché, in charge of external relations, for Voyages vacances tourisme (VVT) for two years, and headed the National Federation of Family Aid at home (FNAFAD) from 1982 to his retirement in 1987.

Struck with Parkinson’s disease during the 1980s, he later developed Alzheimer’s and died in a residence for dependent persons in his home town.


Translator: Stefan Gigacz