1937: Paul McGuire: JOC and the Training of Militants

In my last article I gave some account of the “Jeunesse Ouvriere Chretienne,” JOC, Catholic Worker Youth. In July last it assembled 70,000 delegates from twenty different countries at its Paris Congress. The previous week, the Communist youth organisations had assembled only 20,000. JOC is the Catholic masses, Catholic working youth, on march. On the march for Christ. Who, seeing them, can doubt that the Church is meeting the challenge of the age? Here is Catholic Action in being. Here one can see what Catholic Action means.

IT is true, I think, that one can best describe Jocism by describing its methods; and that a plain account of the work in a new Jocist group will be of most use. Much of this article is drawn from the little textbook on how to start a Jocist study circle. (“Comments debuter dans un cercle d’etudes jociste,” 4th edition. JOC, 12 avenue Soeur-Rosalie, Place d’ltalie, Paris, 3e.) I am indebted also to notes made by Fr. Decan, C.P., of Holy Cross, Belfast, whose translation of the text is shortly to be published, I understand, by the Liverpool Council for Catholic Action.

JOC always begins by training a group of militants. As it is concerned with the milieu, the immediate environment of workers, it must train its militants to understand their environment. It starts, not with general principles, but from the actual conditions of the workers’ lives. It reverses, in brief, the normal process of education; but, then, it is an essentially realistic organisation, training apostles, and the apostolate is exercised from the very first.

To see the situation, to estimate it, weigh and judge it, and then to act in it . . . that is the Jocist principle. It expects its members to realise the urgency of the social crisis, to get down to brass tacks. Everything which suggests the classroom is banished. The milieu is the street, the home, the factory. “Something, however small, can always be done by individuals straight away. You can correct a wrong impression of the Catholic teaching of the Just Wage, or start a talk about something vital to the workers, or start to sing a clean song when the fellows sing a dirty one. . . .”

To see things as they are—that is the first job of a Jocist. And so a group may begin by making a map of its district and marking on it the working-class streets, the mills, the corners where the young workers gather in the evenings. And the study circle will begin with these questions:

What streets and houses of our district are working-class?

Where do our comrades stand about in winter and in summer?

Where do the fellows we know work?

What young workers do we know?

Could we get to know them better? How?


It will be seen at once that the questions, designed to objectify the situation of each boy or girl, also from the first suggest action. How can we get in touch with the fellows we knew at school? What are they up to? Where do they work? Are they practising Catholics?

The second meeting of a circle will come back on these questions:

What have we done since last meeting to improve our knowledge of the district?

Can we now mark the map with all the working-class streets and houses?

Have we got in touch with some of the comrades? Whom? If not, why not? Did we talk to them? What did we say? What did they say?

Are we interested in their lives? Do we show interest in the lives of our comrades?

Are there any young workers in our street or factory or shop who left school and started life only this year? Are they happy in their trades? How did they come to choose them? Because they were handy at the job, liked it, were physically fit for it? Or because they didn’t think much about it, took it only because there wasn’t a better job going?

Did their parents try to find them better jobs? Did they consult the teacher or the doctor? Did they consider the disadvantages of the trade its standing, security, moral environment?

Do you think the workers understand how important it is to prepare carefully for one’s job in life?

The point begins to appear. The boys are gradually forming judgments, from their observations of their own and their comrades’ lives. And from the judgments follow the suggestions for action.


What hours are worked in our town and shops and mills? How does this compare with other places?

What unemployment is there where we work? Do we know any unemployed? What could we do for them? Watch out for jobs? Show them the ropes in the matter of the dole and so on? How are we going to do it?

That is a great question always for the Jocist. How are we going to do it? The boys or girls thrash out the methods and approaches. If they fail once, they return to the issue next time—and next time, until they succeed.

Do we know any jobs injurious to the health of young workers? Why are they unhealthy? Are the hours too long, is the ventilation bad, are the fittings insanitary, are there conditions promoting immodesty?

What do we think of the conditions the young workers have to bear? What does JOC think of them? What does it say in your handbook?


The worker is not only a worker; he has hours of leisure. And so the questions continue:

Do the young workers stay much at home in their leisure? Do they help their parents? Work for their own betterment? Do they garden? Practise handicrafts?

If not, what do they mostly do? Play games? Pubs? Betting shops? Card schools? Pictures? Dance halls?

What do you think of these amusements? What is their effect on the young worker?

In our district, is there a library which the young workers could use? Or courses in technical schools? Opportunities for music, singing, art? What effect would these have on young workers? What does JOC *hink about it all?

How are the workers housed about here? In new building estates, old houses and slums, shacks, caravans?

Have they sufficient light and air? What about sanitation? Are their homes cheery, decent, human? Can any gardening be done near the home?

What do we think of the workers’ housing? What effect has it on family life? On children’s health? On purity, decency, good manners? On the way that free time is spent?

What can each of us do to make living conditions better?


So the pattern grows in the boys’ minds; many more questions than I can repeat here, but each calculated to set them thinking, to move them towards doing. One can see, almost in the questions themselves, a developing social awareness, a growing sense of social responsibilities and ties. But man is not merely a social animal; he is a moral being. ^And the questions continue (but notice how they are still working on the boys’ own experiences):

What do the young workers talk about when they hang round the street corner? What is said about purity? Do the young workers think purity possible or necessary? Should a fellow have a girl? What do the chaps say? Do they think it should depend on his age? What do we think?

What do the fellows say about getting married? What age do they think is the right age for marriage? Why, in their view, do people get married? The physical pleasures? Or because they want to love and be loved by someone? Or because it is more comfortable to have your own home and to settle down? Or because they want children? What reasons do they give for their opinions? What do you think of their reasons?

What do the lads think of their parents and families? How do they talk about them?

Do we think that working conditions have much to do with all this?

What do the fellows think of working-class solidarity? Do they believe in it? Or do they think it should be every man for himself?

Is it very difficult for the young worker to remain pure and honest? Why? Is it the general tone of the chaps we work with or meet outside?

Do we know young workers who quarrel with their parents, keep their own wages? And young workers who help their parents? Why?

Does an immoral life affect health? And pocket? And the young worker’s capacity . for love, dignity, finer feelings?

What do we think of the moral character of the workers as a whole? Do our conditions affect our family life? Does immorality weaken us in our family life, in our organisations?

Is religion discussed by the lads? What do the workers say about God and the Church? What workers let it be known in the factories that they are practising Catholics? Are we known to be Christians? What do the other chaps say to us about it? What do we say to them?

Do we know what being a Christian means? Is it only going to Mass on Sundays and to the Sacraments now and again?

What have we to do to live like Christians? What are the Gospels? Who was Christ? What is the Church? What are the two chief Commandments? Can we practise them in our daily lives? How can we apply them to our mates at work? In the street? At home?


And so on. These questions are drawn, as examples, from the first four meetings. They are sufficient to instance the general method and the cumulative effect and the gradual orientation of the recruit’s thoughts to Christ and the tasks which Christ has set JOC. I do not know any method better calculated to engage a boy’s interest, or a girl’s for that matter. Priests using it have told me of its extraordinary effects; and I have seen work done by boys of 15 and 16, crude, illiterate, yet alive with the sense of Christ and His Charity. In the next article I shall give some account of the varieties of meetings and their conduct, and of jobs actually being done by Jocists.

– By Paul McGuire .


JOC and the Training of Militants (Advocate, Thursday 30 September 1937, page 6) (Trove)