The Joseph Cardijn Story

At the dawn of the 1900s, a young boy named Cardijn grew up in Belgium, surrounded by the harsh realities of factory life. He heard the relentless clatter of wooden clogs each morning as workers trudged past his house, heading to the factories. By evening, he saw them return, worn out and defeated, their spirits crushed by the gruelling workday.

Cardijn’s parents rejoiced when he decided to become a priest despite needing his potential factory wages. When he came home from the seminary, he saw his childhood friends, now labourers, had grown cynical of the Church and dismissed him as ‘the little priest.’ The untimely death of his father, worn down by overwork, cemented Cardijn’s resolve to address what he called ‘the Worker Problem.’

Determined to make a difference, Cardijn realized priests could not enter the factories, so the workers had to save themselves. He believed that their actions could become the redemptive mission of Christ. The dignity of work needed to be reclaimed, and workplaces could no longer be bastions separate from God. “Its victims must become its conquerors,” he declared.

Cardijn emphasized that every person is created in the image of God and thus has inherent dignity. Treating workers like machines contradicted this fundamental truth of faith. In 1916, due to his outspoken resistance against the German armies, he was imprisoned for thirteen months. Undeterred, Cardijn used his prison time to plan what would become the Young Christian Workers (YCW.) movement.

Young Christian Workers

Cardijn envisioned a movement for young workers, helping them realize their Christian vocation and become missionaries in their workplaces. He founded groups for young women, needleworkers, and boys, eventually leading to the first YCW. leaders. By 1924, the Young Trade Unionists evolved into the Young Christian Workers, with Cardijn as their National Chaplain.

In 1925, Cardijn officially launched the YCW. It became an international mass movement under the Church’s sanction. It spread beyond Europe to North and South America, Africa, and Asia. Advocates in Australia, like Paul McGuire and Kevin T. Kelly, helped establish YCW through their dynamic leadership.

Vatican II

By the 1950s, Cardijn was internationally recognized, advocating for young workers worldwide. He delivered the keynote address at the first international Lay Apostolate Congress in Rome and brought thousands of young workers to the Vatican for a World Assembly. His proposal to Pope John XXIII to mark the 70th anniversary of Rerum Novarum led to the encyclical Mater et Magistra, formalizing the See Judge Act method.

Pope John XXIII also appointed Cardijn to the Commission on Laity for Vatican II. In 1965, Pope Paul VI made him a cardinal, allowing him to participate fully in the Council’s final session. Cardijn continued his mission until his death at 84 in 1967, leaving a legacy of faith and optimism.

Today, the YCW. continues to serve, educate, and represent young workers, using the SEE, JUDGE, and ACT method to inspire change.

Cardijn Community Australia

Cardijn Community Australia (CCA) carries forward Cardijn’s vision. We build communities that reflect on their lives in light of the Gospels and take collective action on social issues, emphasizing the lay apostolate in everyday life.

Cardijn’s story is a testament to the power of dedication and faith. His unwavering commitment to improving workers’ lives and his innovative approach to social justice inspire and mobilize people worldwide. Through small groups, training, and collaboration with allied movements, the CCA strives to transform individuals and society, honouring Cardijn’s enduring legacy.