The ‘Cardijn in Australia’ conference held in Melbourne from 4-6 November honoured cooperative pioneer Ted Long and other significant figures of the Australian Cardijn movements.
In a moving address, co-operative champion and historian Dr Race Mathews compared the role of YCW Cooperative co-founder Ted Long with that of Joseph Cardijn, founder of the YCW, and that of Jose-Maria Arizmendiarrietta, founder of the Mondragon cooperatives in Spain.
It was a fitting tribute to Long, who died in 2009 in relative anonymity despite the enormous role that he played alongside Frank McCann and other pioneers of the lay apostolate both in the development of the Young Christian Workers and of the cooperative movement in Australia.
Dr Mathews highlighted not only the role of Ted Long but also that of Cardijn, whose work had directly inspired the work of Father Arizmendi in the Basque region of Spain. I had known for some that Father Arizmendi had been a YCW chaplain in the town of Mondragon but Dr Mathews spelled out the direct linkage between Cardijn and Arizmendi.
Having myself earlier lamented that Donald Rumsfeld deserved the title of patron saint of Cardijn movement history for his famous quote about “unknown unknowns“, I rejoiced to hear Dr Mathews shedding light on the contributions of Long and Cardijn.
And yet so much still remains to be done to adequately record the historical role of those movements in Australia.
Indeed, I still regret that we failed to make a video recording of Ted Long himself or of the late Father Cyril Hally, who had attended the founding meeting of the Cardijn Community in Australia in July 2008 before going to his eternal reward.
And there are so many others who have magnificent stories to tell of what the early Australian Cardijn movements achieved and it is urgent to record them.
Although I had long been aware that Cardijn was full of praise for the local YCW movements during his visits to Australia in 1958 and 1966, I had always tended to discount this as playing up to his hosts. It was only much later when I went to work for the International YCW during the 1980s that it slowly dawned on me that no other city in the world ever had a YCW on the scale of the movement in Melbourne in the 1950s and 60s.
No wonder then that Cardijn told his Australian hosts in 1958 that “your YCW has developed as I dreamt a YCW should develop.”
And yet by the time that I was invited to join the YCW at the end of 1974 most of that movement had simply disappeared.
Many reasons have been proffered to explain what happened – sociological changes, post-Vatican II turmoil, “the 1970s”, etc.
Whatever the causes, the dramatic decline of the Cardijn movements also somehow threw a veil over the achievements the previous thirty years – and even over the smaller scale achievements of the movements during the last thirty years.
So it was highly refreshing to hear so many conference speakers testifying to the impact of the movements in their own lives, as was the fact that at least half of the conference participants looked to be under 30.
In a remarkable keynote address which will hopefully be available on the web shortly, Darwin Bishop Eugene Hurley told a particularly powerful story of a YCW leader from the Port Pirie diocese, Margie Lee, who became a quadriplegic as a result of a car accident and who consciously and cheerfully sought to discover and to live out her own vocation as a handicapped person assisting others to deal with their own traumas.
Amazingly, the oldest participant at the conference, Des O’Connell, turned out to be possibly the last surviving member of the fabled Campion Society as well as a member of the equally storied Maryknoll intentional community established to the east of Melbourne during the 1950s.
In fact, it was largely through the Campion Society leader Kevin T. Kelly that the Cardijn movements were first introduced into Australia.
The Cardijn in Australia conference opened or re-opened many windows on the achievements of the Cardijn-inspired movements. Ultimately, however, the purpose was to build for the future.
Appropriately, the conference ended with a workshop on developing enquiries – the key to the Cardijn method of action and formation – as well as with a number of exciting proposals for the development of study groups and even hopefully a Cardijn Institute.
There’s life yet in the Cardijn movements, dare I say the best is yet to come.