YCS History: From school rooms to a radicalised student movement

ATF Press will launch the next issue of Cardijn Studies featuring a collection of essays and interviews from those who were involved in the late 1960s through to the early 1980s in the Young Christian Student movement (YCS) with a webinar on 20 April 2023.

An international movement, the YCS was founded in Australia 1942 and was essentially for many years in Australia a secondary Catholic school movement. In other parts of the world, it was a tertiary sector movement. In the 1960s Australia had 25,000 members around the country. Groups varied in size from five or six to twenty-five members. Many Catholic secondary schools, and many dioceses, had YCS groups of senior secondary Catholic school students.

By the late 1960s and early 1970s things began to change. The leadership of the movement was changing. Chaplains who had been present for many years began to move on or were encouraged to move on by the student leaders. It was becoming more and more a student led movement, a movement ‘by students for students’ following the inspiration of Joseph Cardijn the founder of the Young Christian Workers movement (YCW).

In the late 1960s the Australian YCS began to participate in international meetings and in the 1970s various leaders, full-time workers from overseas, began to visit Australia. At the leadership level, full-time workers became more aware of what was occurring around the world in oppressive, military led, regimes and of apartheid in South Africa.

The leadership became aware of YCS leaders in other places were being imprisoned, beaten or tortured. Material was being sent to the Australian National Office, in Melbourne, from the international office or other YCS groups around the world or from within the Asian region. From the National Office material was disseminated around the country.

A rift developed between the bishops and the national leadership. School groups and groups generally began to close or cease to meet. At times this was encouraged by the full-timer workers or by school administrations. Nuns and priests who had been involved in the movements for many years were uncertain of what was happening. Some of the bishops saw the movement as becoming too left wing and too political.

Contributors to this volume include: Linda Baker (full-time worker in Perth and the National Office in the 1970’s and early 1980s), Trevor Bate (Regional Victorian worker in the early 1970s), Carmel Brown (full-time worker in Melbourne in the early 1970s), Mark Considine (National full-time worker in the early 1970s), Brian Lawrence (National Secretary and President in the 1960s), Anthony Regan (full-time worker in Adelaide 1969 and 1970), Pat Walsh ( 1968–1978, chaplain in the Ballarat diocese then as national chaplain) and Cathy Whewell (Adelaide full-time worker 1974–1975).

Hilary D Regan has been publisher and Executive Officer of ATF Press for thirty years and is the editor of the Cardijn Studies journal and several other ATF Press publications.


Cardijn Studies Launch: From Catholic school rooms to a radicalised student movement

Tuesday 20 April 2023, 5pm Adelaide




From Catholic School Rooms to a Radicalised Student Movement (ATF Press)

Pat Walsh recalls his YCS formation

A long-standing human rights worker and Timor Leste solidarity campaigner, Pat Walsh was national chaplain to the Australian YCS for five years, 1973-1978.

Some forty years on, he has written up his experiences looking at the impact on the secondary school YCS of this exciting but turbulent period of historic change and reflects on the experience and its potential lessons for today’s church.

Pat writes:

The movement known as the Young Christian Students (YCS) has morphed several times during its 80 or so year history in Australia. Once highly favoured by popes, principals and parish priests, YCS’s footprint today is far smaller than it used to be. Given, however, that the principles it represents both informed and were endorsed by the Second Vatican Council and remain highly relevant, this is a paradox.

Whether or not clues to this change of fortune can be found in the following account, it is to be hoped that Australia’s upcoming synod process will recognise what a unique vehicle the YCS can be to foster young laity and their contribution to the church and the world.

Looking to the future, he notes that “the Jocist review of life is not just a training tool or a practice confined to the YCS and YCW”:

It is grounded in, and an extension of, a common, almost unconcious, human habit that we use a thousand times a day. What Cardijn did was to formalise and baptise this see-judge-act reflex. Its practice is an enriching life skill. Many former YCS colleagues testify that it has served them well in adult professional life, enhancing their sense of responsibility for others and the world and engagement in many local and international contexts.

He concludes:

The fate of the YCS is no different to that of many other church entities across the Christian spectrum, particularly in Australia and the West. In that sense, understanding its current situation in Australia requires a broader study than the above sketch. On the other hand, in other settings the YCS remains a global Catholic youth movement. It continues to function in over 100 countries, particularly the South, and takes its lead on issues like climate change, refugees, conflict resolution, inequality, human rights, inter-religious dialogue and criticism of capitalism and consumerism from Pope Francis, himself from the
global South.


Pat Walsh, YCS in the 1970s: Young Laity in Search of Vocation (patwalsh.net)