The Jesuits and the Catholic You

The Jesuits and the Catholic Youth in France in the inter-war period

David Colon


The history of Catholic youth organisations is remarkable growth for a quarter of a century. As a result of the pioneering of Aline Coutrot  (1926-1987), the religious issue has been addressed by most specialists in the history of youth movements, and including Gérard Cholvy, which is the origin of the first synthesis on this issue  . The interwar period is a period hinge in the history of youth movements, as it corresponds to the appearance in the Catholic Youth Association française (ACJF)  , which has on the eve of the war a hundred groups and about 140 000 members of specialized movements dedicated to the Apostolate in the secular workplace: youth Christian workers (YCW)  , created in 1927, the youth agricultural Catholic (JAC) and youth Christian student (JEC)  , founded in 1929.

In the background of the history of these movements, the society of Jesus influence that historiography does not fully reflect this update. The Catholic Youth is a key issue for the Jesuits, who are looking to religious vocations are or, failing that, form "Jesuit's robe", i.e. of the laity in their colleges or their congregations and dedicated to remain loyal to the company. In the interwar years, the Jesuits are no strangers to the deep changes the French Catholic Youth, as demonstrated clearly the archives of the company General Curia in Rome. The latter provide a panoptic and vision almost omniscient of all his works, and the company because of the hierarchical structure of the company and the role of the superior general: it is this last that is, under the terms of article 666 of the Constitutions of Ignatius of Loyola, "the full authority of the provincials, which descends by them until the local superiors and by them until each in particular. The Roman archives are all richer that the society of Jesus requires its members an opening of consciousness, that the Jesuit "opens completely to his superior of his problems of its projects, its cases of conscience, of his spiritual life . At all levels of the company, "Consultors" were to load to ensure obedience ac cadaver of the brothers, and in Rome, the wizard of France, the Reverend Father (RP) Norbert de Boynes, serving from 1923, is responsible for overseeing the four provinces the company French: Champagne, Paris, Toulouse and Lyon .

Catholic Youth in the 1920s

The legacy of the Belle Epoque and Separation

Unlike the secular clergy and other religious orders, the Jesuits focuses its activities of Apostolate in the student environment, where it seeks to remain in contact with the intellectual and social elite. Since 1875, the Congregation Marian of the rue de Sèvres, so-called 'meeting of young people, includes Paris alumni of Jesuit schools within the Conference Olivaint, for the literary and the Laennec, physician Conference. In the province, the Jesuits have since the second half of the XIXe century of a wide network of associations, including in Grenoble, Marseilles, Algiers, Tours, Poitiers, or Besançon.

Banned from teaching since March 1880 and in exile since the adoption of the law on associations of 1901, officially, the Jesuits operate in a semi-clandestine. The company is private legal in France and, after the Separation of the churches and the State, the Jesuits are using their former students to finance their activities or endorse the fictitious property of their real estate properties. In 1906, for example, RP Regis Henri Pupey-Girard founded the social Union of Catholic engineers (FSU), administered by lay people, that unites engineering students and alumni. Association trade union oriented, the FSUIT is the most complete expression of the influence of the Jesuits in the circles of the engineers. The discretion with which the Jesuits repeated, in fact, Republicans prejudices against them: the law on the recruitment of the army on 7 August 1913, which prohibits students who have completed their three years of study abroad to attend the contest Saint-Cyr or Polytechnic, is directly Jesuit colleges exiled in Belgium or Jersey.

The conquest of the latin quarter

The improvement of relations between the Catholic Church and the State in the aftermath of the great war allows the company released little by little his semi-clandestine. The Congregation of young people becomes a legal association, "Friends of the students", presided over by a lay and whose statutes do not guess the religious nature. The new Chaplain of the Congregation, the Pully Henri RP, creates new Catholic groups at the Hautes Études commerciales (HEC) in 1922, the Institute of chemistry and the Violet school in 1923, the Breguet school in 1927, as well as in the colonial school and Lycée Lycée Henri IV. On average, 500 Parisian students attend every year, 12-14 rue d'Assas, seat of the ACJF and the Parisian Youth works of the company. The company also extends its influence in Lyon, where it creates a Catholic group for each faculty or school.

In this conquest of the academic enterprise, the Jesuits face competition of the Dominicans, who founded in 1926 the Catholic Faculty of pharmacy group, and in 1928 one of the Faculty of law, and marists, leading 104 rue de Vaugirard, a fireplace, the "meeting of the students" and a conference, "circle particular, frequented before the war, by Georges Goyau and François Mauriac and in the 1930s by François Mitterrand. Strasbourg, returned to France at the end of the conflict, is the subject of vivid lusts: the Jesuits founded the Ozanam circle in 1919, the brothers of the Congregation of Matzenheim the Foyer of Catholic students (FEC) in 1925, and the secular clergy circle Alsatia Catholic University in 1927. Competition between the different religious orders, however, does not exclude certain forms of cooperation. Thus, in Nancy, RP Owen founded the Group of Catholic students (GEC) of Nancy with the support of the bishopric and the participation of the Dominican.

The development of groups of students is such as in the early 1920s, all the University towns and most schools have at least one group or a Catholic home. Recruitment, limited mostly pre-war private higher education or former students of Catholic colleges, gradually expanded to faculties and schools.

The company, the Catholic Youth and politics

In the 1920s, the lowest common denominator of the French Jesuits is their experience of exile and a sense of confidence in the Republican regime. It is exacerbated by the experience of the Cartel des gauches and antijesuitisme the right maurrassienne, who gladly presents general Wladimir Ledochowski, born in Galicia, as a "German", while pamphlets denouncing the "Jesuit conspiracy" multiply.

However, the Jesuits were very divided on the direction the early works, when the ACJF says its presence in the field of civic and political. Charles Flory, who chairs it from 1922 to 1926, launches the slogan "civic because social" and the 1920 mark, as Alain - René Michel, 'the entry into democracy' Catholic Youth of the ACJF. This turning point is supported by a small group of students from the Jesuit Congregation, including Georges Bidault and Andrew Davidson, near the people's Democratic Party (PDP), founded in 1924. This new direction is the ACJF to be as early as 1919 criticism sent to Rome by the proponents of an intransigent line, which accuse him of having "too democratic trends," of going too far in the social field and "mingle with the public life. Chaplains of certain groups Paris, Lyon and Marseille attacked strongly the chaplain-general, RP François Corbillé, whom they accuse "recommend" and "sponsor" the people's Democratic Party. Pretext of refusal by a Federation of groups of students within the ACJF's chaplain, the Pully RP, known for his maurrassiennes sympathies, promotes on 26 February 1922 of the French Federation of Catholic students (WEC), that several Dominican chaplains and which is placed under the authority of the Rector of the Catholic Institute, Mgr Baudrillart, chosen for its moral authority for its independence against the ecclesiastical hierarchy as well. The WEC officially secular work, so has the particularity to count more chaplains of Jesuit students than the ACJF. She quickly gathers students hostile to the Republican regime, including René Pleven, president of the Olivaint Conference in 1920-1921, then convinced nationalist, who became president of the WEC in 1923-1924.

The experience of the Cartel des gauches was for the Catholic Youth of the 1920s, when a strong mobilization. We know, thanks to the work of Corinne Bonafoux Vatsavayi all the Jesuits brought to the National Catholic Federation (FNC) general Castelnau. Roman archives show that the company attempted to get the ACJF accession to the FNC but, given the refusal of the general Committee, had to settle for an individual membership groups and diocesan meetings. The Provincial of Paris, RP Felix Mollat, complains to the Curia of a "small group of elders of the ACJF, whose ideas are left" very opposed to the FNC. It still results in the accession of the ACJF alumni association December 7, 1924, while the president of the ACJF sits on an individual basis to the NCP Management Committee. Among the most loyal supporters of general Castelnau is RP Doncoeur, which launches in 1924 his movement "Young France", which is a "Catholic Youth elite" in order to "renew the race, strong, beautiful, healthy, transform the souls who are lost, poisoned, languid. His program is based on a break with "Pagan compromises", total abstinence from the dances of exhibitions, cinemas, shows, and his movement gave birth to a new branch of Scouting. In fact, the divide within the Jesuit chaplain is stronger than ever: the progressives support the ACJF and RP Desbuquois popular Action, while the Conservatives gather around the FNC and the WEC and did not hesitate to denounce to the Holy See the elders of the ACJF who belong to the PDP.

Corresponds to a radicalisation of the political commitment of Catholic Youth, a large cross-section is attempted by the action and political commitments radicals that delete it peaceful direction and briandistes of the ACJF, which prefers to "Policy first" period of the Cartel of the Action française the watchword "Catholics first. Against the popular Democrats of the ACJF, young hard-line nationalists gathered in the League for the rights of Veterans Affairs (DRAC) of the RP Doncoeur, or patriotic youth, with the consent, if not encouragement, of some of their chaplains, like the Pully RP.

Les jésuites et la Jeunesse catholique en France dans l'entre-deux-guerres