John Curnow, priest and prophet

John Curnow

A key moment in John Curnow’s interpretation of Cardinal Joseph Cardijn’s method was his organisation’s donation in 1981 of $1000 to the anti-Springbok tour movement Halt All Racist Tours (HART).

The South African Springboks rugby team were set to tour the country in the second part of 1981 and the country was riven with rugby supporters excited at the prospect of seeing their beloved national team, the All Blacks, defeating that other great team, and equally passionate protesters against South Africa’s racist Apartheid system of government which privileged the white minority population over the country’s majority black and coloured population.

Curnow’s donation caused an explosion of condemnation from many traditional Catholics throughout New Zealand, led by John Kennedy, the conservative editor of the national weekly the Tablet.

The Catholic Commission for Evangelisation, Justice and Development was established in the 1970s with Curnow as its driving force in a bid to address the causes of poverty. The Church had grappled with the problem of poverty overseas since the 1950s. Eventually it became clear that sending money overseas was doing nothing about poverty in other countries. In fact after a decade of overseas aid, the problem was worse. People needed to be educated about the causes of poverty and the link between rich and poor as a way of better addressing the problem.

Amid the uproar of the church’s donation to an organisation many regarded as Marxist or, worse, Communist, Curnow told journalist Helen Paske in a 1981 article for the New Zealand Listener that personnel in the commission to run education programs were thin on the ground and HART was doing a good job of educating New Zealanders about the problem of apartheid.

“We have so few people to do programs of our own that we have to look for partners.”

A few years later, he would say in an interview that the HART grant and a similar one to the Waitangi Action Committee to raise awareness of indigenous land issues, showed up the ideological “rich and poor” division in the Church. Some would say the lively debate these created showed their effectiveness as an education project.

“But it has left a lot of scars and a lot of divisions and perhaps it does show the depth of division that exists.”

As a champion of the Cardijn method – see, judge, act – Curnow worked tirelessly in his own, Christchurch diocese and later in the national CYM and YCW movements to build groups of young Catholics versed in the method of reflecting on the Gospel and bringing this reflection to what was happening in society, devising an appropriate action and then reflecting on that action in light of the Gospel.

Later he started the Christian Family Movement comprising couples who wanted to build the movement through their parishes. Curnow became chaplain for the Christchurch diocese, the national and finally the international movements. As one couple said in their tribute, his message and challenge was constant, “Successful family life was about living out the highest values and Christian couples were blessed with a capacity to love beyond themselves… He called on couples to accept responsibility for their communities and to carry out their love on behalf of those in need, particularly the poor and the marginalised.” Social action was key and action for human development was crucial to God’s plan for the redemption of the world.

With his talent for using words to great effect, he was able to convince people of the veracity of this new message and for those who struggled, he showed endless care and patience. Those who rejected these truths were challenged ruthlessly to choose between being part of the solution or the problem.

The Cardijn method was at the heart of everything Curnow did whether it be driving the change in philosophy from overseas aid to development to partnership with the poor and marginalised to what he would have considered his greatest work: social structural analysis.

In the last decade of his life (had he lived another 29 years, he would have celebrated his 100th birthday on July 5, 2020) he ran structural analysis workshops for groups of people working with the poor and marginalised throughout New Zealand, the Pacific and Asia. Indeed, less than a week before his death on July 25, 1991, he was leading a workshop in Fiji. Through the workshops, he helped people to understand that, rather than poverty being a personal punishment for not working hard enough, the structures of society – political, economic, social/cultural – were set up to privilege the wealthy few over the many “havenots”. Here he used the Cardijn method to encourage groups of people to see how society’s structures worked to their detriment, to discuss possible group actions, to implement them, then to reflect on the results in light of the Gospel.

The directors of the highly successful Kaikoura tourism concern “Whale watchers” and the Maori (political) Party were involved in John Curnow’s workshops.

Though he was fiercely loyal to the Catholic Church, he used to say that the Gospel had little to do with the Church but a great deal to do with the world.

He is remembered by many in Australasia, Asia and the Pacific as a prophet who showed much love and generosity as well as huge insight into the relationship between the Gospel and humanity’s social, economic and political circumstances. As with all prophets, he could encourage and disturb in equal measure and woe betide anyone who was not on the same page – his wrath could be devastating.

The author

Cecily McNeill has been a journalist for nearly 40 years – nine as editor of the Wellington archdiocesan newspaper, Wel-Com. She also worked as a volunteer for the secular aid agency, Corso, and for the Catholic Church’s Commission for Evangelisation, Justice and Development and is passionate about social justice. A tentative publication date is July 2021, marking the 30th anniversary of John Curnow’s death. Read more John Curnow (Cardijn Priests) Fr John Curnow and Cardijn

Training Catholic Activists in New Zealand

See Judge Act

Rod Orange’s book, “See, Judge, Act, Training Catholic Activists in New Zealand, 1939-1983” is a history of the lay leadership training groups In this country, variously known as the Catholic Youth Movement (CYM), later the Young Christian Workers (YCW), and affiliated with Young Christian Students (YCS) and the Christian Family Movement (CFM), writes Pat Lythe in NZ Catholic, writes Pat Lythe, a former Parish and Pastoral Services Group leader at Auckland diocese, in NZ Catholic magazine.

“It is more than just a history; it is an analysis of the foundational principles behind the ‘See, Judge, Act’ theology, combining Catholic social teaching with leadership training In order to reform society. It traces the development and growth of the groups and their later decline and eventual closure. Rod himself was a leader In the movement, but Jocelyn Franklin, who had years as a full-time leader and had surveyed members about their experiences, was the Inspiration and instigator of the book. Jocelyn sadly died the day the book was released.

“Belgian priest Joseph Cardijn developed the movement to prepare young leaders to be the yeast in the dough of society struggling in the disturbed social conditions of the Depression and two world wars. The author traces the history from the beginnings in Dunedin in 1937, followed by groups in Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington. The study programs and the numbers and, In many cases, names of young people involved are examined. Prior to Vatican II, when there was very little lay involvement in the Church, these groups expanded and blossomed

“In the 1950s and 1960s. Chapter 6 looks at the influence of Vatican II on the movement and Chapter 7 covers the more radical positions the movement began to take, followed by a proliferation of other groups people could join. Chapter 8 looks at the decline of the movement, and the last chapter asks “what now” under Pope Francis?

“Rod has meticulously researched every group, published as many photographs as he could find and name, and gives an interesting take on the support or otherwise of the hierarchy. Many of our leaders today, (or yesterday!), Jim Anderton, Ivan Snook,, Paul and Shirley Temm, Alf Kirk, Ian Shirley, Cardinal Tom Williams, and Manuka Henare were products of this Catholic Action movement.

“Rod asks at the end, what are we doing today which enables our lay people to use their lived experience as a catalyst for being missionary in today’s world? In a ‘Fit for Mission’ scenario, it Is a very pertinent question. A book to reminisce through, but to be challenged by,” Lythe concludes.

Former YCW chaplain, Jim Consedine, also has another review in Common Good, magazine.

“What a labour of love this book is!” Consedine begins.

“For more than 10 years, Rod Orange researched, wrote and has finally produced an amazing history of not just one Church lay organisation, but four-the Catholic Youth Movement (CYM), Young Christian Workers (YCW), Young Christian Students (YCS) and the Christian Family Movement (CFM). These movements thrived in New Zealand during the 1960s and 1970s and gradually died out in the 1980s.

“At their peak, they helped form several thousand lay Catholics nationwide about Christian life and how to live it in today’s world. Their formula was simple – to follow the mantra of the prophetic Belgian priest/founder Joseph Cardijn: See, Judge, Act. Nourished by their regular weekly meetings, these folk went into their workplaces, homes and wider communities to bear witness to the message of Christ as found in the gospels and in Catholic teaching.

“Rod Orange explores in much detail the modus operandi of the movements, interviews many key leaders and draws on written archival material. Ultimately he asks and attempts to answer the difficult question-why did they flourish so successfully for so long and then wither and die within a short few years? He looks at the key role bishops and chaplains played, the secular social movements that arose during the latter period, the upheaval in the Church after Vatican II, and the influence changing social mores and values had on Church lay movements.

“He has produced a very readable popular history, filled with facts and insights. Illustrated with more than 100 photographs, many of them along with a lucid text provide historic insights into the youth of previous generations and their involvement with the Church.

See, Judge, Act largely succeeds in its aims to provide an eyewitness account of the lay movements of the era, 1937-83. That he opens up many questions which need far more in-depth reflection is clear and answers are not immediate. Historians in the future will hopefully seek resolution to such questions and will find this book a great aid in their further research.


NZ Catholic

Common Good (Catholic Worker)


SEE, JUDGE, ACT – Training Catholic Activists in Now Zealand, 1937-1983. By Rod Orange, (Steele Roberts Aotoaroa, 2019) $NZ39.99

ACI Newsletter – May 2020

Pentecost Edition

Dear Friends,

Welcome to the Pentecost edition of our newsletter.

As Cardijn recalled of Pope John XXIII, “He spoke so freely of a new Pentecost!” Like John XXIII, he hoped that Vatican II would open the way to “a new Pentecost proclaiming the way of union and peace” to the world.

In this spirit, the Cardijn Community has also long sought to promote a “New Pentecost” in the Church and world. And this year, the Catholic movement, Pax Romana – ICMICA is organising an online celebration of Pentecost on Sunday 31 May, albeit at 11.00pm Australian Eastern Time.

From a historical perspective, we also recall the 70th anniversary of the death of Sillon movement founder, Marc Sangnier, a major influence on Cardijn, on Pentecost Sunday 1950. And we would particularly like to remember YCW cooperative pioneer, Bob Maybury AO, who died at the age of 92 earlier this month.

And we have lots more reading – and watching – below.

Stefan Gigacz


Laudato Si’ five years on

This month marks the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’ important encyclical Laudato Si’ on “Care for Our Common Home,” updating Catholic Social Teaching on environmental as well as labour and other issues.

Brian Lawrence has a detailed analysis of the encyclical in his article “The Economics of Laudato Si’: No surprises here” published by the Australian Catholic Council for Employment Relations.”

Meanwhile, Parramatta YCW are taking action as part of Laudato Si’ Week, writes youth engagement officer, Thomas Magri in Catholic Outlook.

“We are taking action with the introduction of a range of climate justice projects including vegan cooking classes, environmental documentary reviews, social inquiries and reviews and engaging our Facebook community to keep everyone updated,” Thomas writes.


Laudato Si’ five years on (Australian Cardijn Institute) 

RIP YCW Coop pioneer, Bob Maybury AO

Former YCW leader, Bob Maybury, a leading figure in the history of the Victorian YCW co-operatives, passed away on 16 May, aged 92.

Bob joined the Deepdene YCW leaders group c.1943, and afterwards became a regional YCW committee member. Having gained accountancy qualifications through the Christian Brothers North Melbourne night school, in 1952 Fr Lombard invited him to become the new manager of the YCW Cooperative Housing Society group.


RIP Robert Bernard Maybury AO (CCA Newsletter, May 2020)


Bob Maybury on working in the YCW cooperative movement (Uniting Church/Vimeo) 

Remembering Marc Sangnier, founder of the Sillon movement

This week we commemorate the 70th anniversary of the death of Marc Sangnier, the founder of the French democratic movement, Le Sillon (The Furrow), which was the precursor and prototype for the YCW and its Specialised Catholic Action counterparts.

Inspired by Pope Leo XIII’s encyclicals on the worker situation (Rerum Novarum) and Church-state relations, Sangnier and a group of students at the Stanislas (University) College in Paris launched a social action “study circle” in 1893 that became known as “The Crypt” after the basement in which they met. Here they developed a method of “democratic education” that in many respects anticipated the “see-judge-act” of the YCW.

By the early 1900s, they had begun to promote similar study circles across France, which took the name “Le Sillon” or “The Furrow” after the magazine they also founded. Cardijn first read this magazine and drew inspiration from it when he began to launch study circles for young workers in Belgium in 1912.


Marc Sangnier – 70 years (Cardijn Research)


ACI Board member, Kevin Vaughan, with a photo of Marc Sangnier during a visit to the old Sillon office in Paris in 2006. 

Cardijn and Karol Wojtyla

This marks also marks the centenary of the birth of Karol Wojtyla, better known today as St (Pope) John Paul II.

The Polish pontiff was one of five 20th century popes (future pope in this instance) personally known to Cardijn. Indeed, young Fr Karol Wojtyla first came to visit and study the YCW during a series of summer visits to Belgium and France in 1947-48. In fact, they met on a number of occasions both in Brussels and Rome as John Paul II affectionately recalled in 1985.

The YCW collaborator, Fr François Houtart, who later drafted the first version of the Introduction to the Vatican II Constitution Gaudium et Spes, accompanied Wojtyla on his visits to factories and mines in Belgium’s Walloon region.

Wojtyla was also close to the English YCW leader, Pat Keegan, who became the first lay person to address Vatican II.


Universal solidarity and brotherhood: Cardijn and John Paul II (Cardijn Research)


Karol Wojtyla (centre front) as a 21-year-old young quarry worker during World War II. 

John Maguire: Memories of Cardijn, Keegan and Vatican II

John Maguire, who was a Brisbane YCW chaplain during the 1950s and later a historian at James Cook University in Townsville, was studying in Rome during Vatican II.

There he met Cardijn and indeed was with Cardijn on the day he received his red cardinal’s hat from Pope Paul VI. John also became close friends with Pat Keegan and upon Pat’s request, Pope Paul appointed him as “ecclesiastical assistant” to the lay auditors at Vatican II.

John thus became one of very few Australians (apart from the bishops) to have an official role at the Council. Indeed, he was present during the famous “Black Week” that almost derailed the Council’s work in 1964.

Now living in retirement in Brisbane, John recently shared his memories with the ACI team in Brisbane.


John Maguire: Memories of Cardijn, Keegan and Vatican II (Australian Cardijn Institute/YouTube) 

A business founded on Catholic Social Teaching?

The Archdiocese of San Francisco recently hosted a webinar in honour of Servant of God Jose Maria Arizmendiarrieta, a simple parish priest who against great odds organized his followers to put Catholic social teaching to work and founded the world’s largest worker-owned cooperative business in the world, the Mondragon corporation.

Fr Arizmendi, as he was known, was the force behind Mondragon Corporation, which today exceeds $A20 billion in revenue and employs over 75,000 worker-owners across the globe through its nearly 300 companies across an array of sectors incuding finance, manufacturing, education, retail, and consulting.

Speakers were Dr Stephen. A. Cortright, Professor of Philosophy and Tutor, Integral Curriculum of Liberal Arts, at Saint Mary’s College of California and Jesus Maria Herrasti (above), who knew Fr Arizmendi, who has held various executive positions within companies of the Mondragon Corporation across multiple sectors including being Chairman of Mondragon Corporation. Watch from 1:23:00 of the video for where Herrasti highlights the role of the YCW in the foundation of the Mondragon cooperatives.


A Patron Saint for Cooperatives and Entrepreneurs (Archdiocese of San Francisco Office of Human Life and Dignity/YouTube) 

Three touchstones of the genuine YCW: Cardijn

By the early 1930s, the YCW had begun to spread to other continents and it had already inspired the birth of several other “Specialised Catholic Action” movements, including the YCS. This explosive growth also presented a major problem: what was an authentic YCW?

In this important but never previously translated 1932 article, Cardijn answers this question in terms of “three inseparable objectives or three touchstones,” that allow the YCW to be distinguished from any “fake or caricature,” namely that:

– The YCW aims to transform (or “conquer”) the mass of young workers 
– The YCW aims to re-Christianize the real life of working-class youth. 
– The YCW aims to reclaim the milieu or environment in which the mass of young workers work and live.

It is also highly significant that first in Cardijn’s list is the transformation of the “masses” of young worker.

Indeed, it was the YCW’s concern for the masses that first won the support of Pope Pius XI. “At last, someone has come to speak to me about the working masses,” he told Cardijn in 1925.


Joseph Cardijn, Three touchstones of the genuine YCW (

World War II martyrs on both sides

World War II in Europe ended 75 years ago in May 1945. Right to the end, however, YCS, YCS and other Catholic Action leaders continued to die in Nazi concentration camps.

The 23-year-old French YCW leader, Marcel Carrier, who had been sent to Germany as forced labour, was one of the last, dying at the Flossenburg concentration on 6 May 1945 – just two days before the end of fighting. Married at eighteen, he was survived by his wife and three young daughters.

The French priest, René Giraudet, whose youthful ambition to become a missionary, had been thwarted by ill health, had volunteered to go to Germany to work as a clandestine chaplain to the workers who had been sent there.

On the German side, Erich Klausener became head of German Catholic Action in 1928 and took a strong stand against the nazification of Germany during the 1930s. He was assassinated during the Light of the Long Knives in 1934.


World War II martyrs on both sides (Australian Cardijn Institute)


L to R: Marcel Carrier, René Giraudet and Erich Klausener 

Training Catholic Activists in Now Zealand

This month we have two new reviews of Rod Orange’s book, “See, Judge, Act, Training Catholic Activists in New Zealand, 1939-1983,” which is a history of various Cardijn-inspired groups including the Catholic Youth Movement (CYM), the YCW, YCS and the Christian Family Movement (CFM).

“It is more than just a history; it is an analysis of the foundational principles behind the ‘See, Judge, Act’ theology, combining Catholic social teaching with leadership training In order to reform society,” writes Pat Lythe, a former Parish and Pastoral Services Group leader in Auckland diocese.

“For more than 10 years, Rod Orange researched, wrote and has finally produced an amazing history,” writes former YCW chaplain, Jim Consedine, in another review. “What a labour of love this book is.”


Training Catholic activists in New Zealand (Australian Cardijn Institute) 

Reflection: Negotiating the pandemic in the light of Vatican II

“Our nation and our church stand at a pivotal moment as we ponder the crucial issue of how religious communities can contribute to the common good in a time of pandemic and bitter partisan political division,” writes Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago. “The Vatican II vision of church, state and politics provides a secure pathway as we face the issues of pandemic and partisanship that are becoming destructive of our national unity.

“The intense debates in recent days about religious freedom versus the right of the state to protect public health provide a key example. For the church, the right to public worship lies at the core of its mission and identity. Similarly, for the state, the protection of its citizens is at the heart of its raison d’être. Too often, the public debate has focused on these sets of rights as if they were absolute.

“One way to break this seeming impasse may be found in the focus in “Gaudium et Spes” on the common good, which recognizes the transcendent goal of each of these claims: public worship and the defense of human life. Neither public health and the defense of human life nor the right to public worship can be ignored.

“Both must be integrated into the larger constellation of issues surrounding our response to the pandemic, such as the economic suffering that our country is enduring, the vulnerability of older people and the ways in which people of color are disproportionately suffering during this crisis.


Cardinal Cupich: How Vatican II can help us navigate the politics of a pandemic (America Magazine)


Pandemic board game / Padaguan / Wikipedia / CC BY-SA 4.0