The post-war years

John Fitzsimons

Biography of Patrick Keegan

Chapter 3 – The post-war years

By the beginning of 1946 Pat, nominated by the bishops to resume his position at the head of the YCW had settled into the new headquarters at 43 Offley Road, near the Oval in South London. It was fortuitous that the diocese of Southwark had acquired this house as headquarters for the Southwark Region of the Y.C.W. and that the Region’s chaplain. Father Edward Mitchinson, had been appointed to succeed Father Rimmer as National Chaplain. The national office was set up in a room at the top of the house which subsequently became the chapel.

It is perhaps important to note that the Y.C.W. had emerged from the war years with sections in most parts of the country although by then the average age of the members was below 19, except for those who were in reserved occupations. Continuity and survival were often due to these latter and to the support of devoted chaplains. At the beginning of 1946 there were some fifteen Regions, although some of them might be composed of only a few sections. It was from this nucleus that Pat Keegan set out to build a truly national movement.

His dominant idea was the Cardijn definition of the YCW as an organisation that would educate, serve and represent the young worker. Thus it would have three distinct functions. First, the infrastructure: the foundation of (essentially parochial) sections. This meant finding sympathetic priests who would start these groups and make them centres of apostolic education. These would then have to be provided with work programs and continuing encouragement. Second, specific services (e.g. for the Sick and for the Forces) would have to be organised from the national headquarters and diffused through the Regions. Third, members of the movement would have to represent their fellow workers at every level, from neighbourhood to nation, and in the Church as well as in the secular city. These then formed his objective. The immediate problem was to find the means to attain it: a base, personnel and money.

The base was established – at least for the time being – at Offley Road7. But, now that it was clear that he was officially committed to the YCW, Pat wanted to get himself organised. So he went off to the monastic quiet of the Benedictine abbey at Prinknash in Gloucestershire to make a retreat and work out the parameters of his future. His decision was to give the next three years to the movement – he was now just thirty years old – and during that period not to marry. This commitment would be reviewed on his birthday, February 11th 1949, when he would decide whether to renew it or not. In the event he went on renewing it for another thirty years. A religious might do this and find security, but Pat was, and considered himself most emphatically to be, a layman. For this he paid the price of insecurity for the rest of his life. One may make such an act of faith based on the conviction that “the Lord will provide,” but sometimes the Lord’s servants are not so dependable.

He now knew where he stood; the next task was to take stock of the national situation of the movement, so he organised in January the first ever national Council of the English YCW. This was the sign that it was about to be relaunched, the new post-war model.

Two men who came to Offley Road as often as they could, both still in naval uniform, were Kevin Muir and Frank Lane. Both had been in the YCW before mobilisation, the former in Middlesborough. always an important Region, and the latter had been the first secretary of the London Region. They were the first recruits, soon followed by others from different parts of the country, and a great deal of time was absorbed in their training. All of them who had been in the Forces agreed spontaneously to give their gratuities to the headquarters’ fund. At the end of their training period they too committed themselves to working for the movement for three years, and at the same time accepted to live on ten shillings a week pocket money. This meant that during the three weeks in each month when they were “on the road” they lived with members’ families and on monies given them by the clergy they visited8.

It was a time of optimism and adventure. The war in Europe was over. There was a new world to be built. They were ready to make the sacrifices that were needed. Idealism was at a premium, and the desire to serve Christ in and through their apostolic endeavours underpinned their commitment.

While this was going on Pat had to step up the publications, and in this was helped by a fellow aircraftsman whom he had recruited while in Aden. All through the war years a monthly mimeographed Priests’ Bulletin had been sent out to all chaplains – edited for some years by the present writer. There was also a Leaders’ Bulletin sent out monthly to the sections with Enquiries and skeleton programmes of work. These were revamped as was a monthly magazine type publication for general sale called The Young Worker. At the same time a new How To Start A Section was necessary. Each organiser had to have copies of this to use in his sales talk to the parish clergy. A “New and Revised Edition” was published in January, and the cover was a photograph of the National Council in session. One at least of the members was still in uniform.

But the great cloud in the sky was the matter of finance. Later Pat confessed ruefully that at the time he had not realised that the strong movements in France and Belgium had started out with a great deal of financial support. Facing the problem of resources, he assumed that his situation was normal. It was only later that he learned, for instance, that Belgium was assisted by an already existing network of adult worker organisations. Many of the full time workers of the JOC were considered as being seconded from these organisations which provided their salaries and even guarded their pension rights.

His first thought was to look for some steady form of income through grants. The Ministry of Education was the first target because it was known that it did give some form of support to youth organisations which were considered as “further education.” But the snag, revealed when Pat made advances in that direction at the end of January 1946, was that grants were made only to officially recognised national youth movements. This recognition came through full membership of the Standing Conference of National Voluntary Youth Organisations, known by its initials as SCNVYO So attention was turned to this latter. It, in its turn, was under the umbrella of the National Council of Social Service. The entree here would come from Father Langdale who was the Cardinal’s personal representative on the National Council. Within a month Pat had attended, as an observer, his first meeting of SCNVYO with a view to applying eventually, after a waiting period of six months, for full membership. The application was made in the following September and the YCW became a full member on October 15th, 19469. A double objective had been achieved: a) the YCW could now make a request for grant from the Ministry of Education; and b) the work of representation was now possible at national level10. Eventually a grant was received from the Ministry of Education four years later, in October 1950!

The next element of the budget would come from the members, although it was obvious that in the early stages of growth the small proportion of members’ subscriptions earmarked for headquarters would not provide any significant amount. But they could help in other ways, by selling the magazine (and during that first year American comics as well), by arranging events that would raise some cash, and a plan was put in hand for selling Christmas cards later in the year. Finally, there was the possibility of soliciting donations from sympathisers – and so “The Friends of the YCW” was born. Here one must mention Adele, Countess Cadogan11. From the beginning she had shown great sympathy and support. Moreover she added to her own generosity introductions to other aristocratic friends and people she knew would be able and willing to help. This meant a great deal and provided the paradoxical situation where young workers were being given vital help by the “upper crust” of Catholicism in England. Perhaps it was not paradoxical but a true example of Christian aid.

The National Catholic Youth Association was still in existence as a coordinating body and the YCW and The Grail had been joined in it by the YCS, a sister movement for students. All three of them had little in common with the pattern of the general youth work of the Church, which paralleled other Christian and non-sectarian organisations. Pat was for some time secretary of the NCYA, thereby fulfilling the function of representing young workers in and to the Church.

Up and down the country study days for leaders and for chaplains were being organised, and Pat had to attend many of them as the charismatic inspiration of and link between the different Regions. All this culminated in August with a national study week for leaders. A further study week was planned for the following month. It had been the sad experience of the organisers that their visits to the parochial clergy were often fruitless. It seemed that the old formula – doing things for youth – still prevailed. Discussion of this when the organisers reported back to headquarters arrived at the conclusion that the “education” of the clergy had to begin before ordination. So emerged the project of a Study Week for Seminarians12. This was held in September and the principal speaker was Canon Cardijn himself. The week was highly successful and became an annual event during Pat’s term as President.

Towards the end of the year he was able to report to Archbishop Mathew, now Apostolic Delegate in Mombasa: “We have a staff of 12, 4 of whom are organisers on the road, and 5 on publications, for which Michael is responsible… By the end of January there will be three more organisers, allocated to the Midlands, Tyneside and South Wales. We hope to get 2 full time organisers for South Wales by the beginning of March… Canon Cardijn was very pleased with the movement in England, and his attitude was – well, thank God, at least we have got the genuine YCW here. He has gone on to Rome, and I understand his mission has been successful, the purpose of which was to get the YCW recognised as an international body, without giving it a Cardinal protector…. We really have a very good team working here now, and I am very happy about the whole show. The more I get about the more I realise the terrible responsibility the YCW has.”

After twelve months the mood was of satisfaction but far from complacency. During this period, apart from the preoccupation and work that had produced this mood, there were the regular three-day meetings of the International Bureau held either in Paris or in Brussels. And already preparations were in hand for the first International Congress to be held outside Europe, in Montreal, in June ’47.

The early part of 1947 saw two important developments. The first was of domestic significance while the second was of national and ultimately international import.

It became clear from section reports and from information gathered by the organisers that a crucial point in the working life of young persons came at its very beginning: the transition from school to work. The conviction was growing that preparation for this was needed in the years immediately preceding leaving school, and so the decision was made to launch the Pre-YCW. It would be more than a service, although two of the headquarters’ organisers would be responsible for running it under the umbrella of the YCW. So it was launched officially on February 11th – a significant date – with Tom Casey, Pat’s vice-president, and Mary Caddick in charge of the boys’ and girls’ departments respectively. All the sections throughout the country were urged to take account of this and to begin Pre-YCW groups. Quite apart from the help given to the youngsters still at school, they would assure the continuity of the local section. The YCW had been rightly described (was it by Father Langdale?) as an escalator to adult life – one of the services it was to provide was Pre-Marriage Courses – and the Pre-Y would mean that there were always young workers waiting to get on to the escalator.

The second event, in February 1947, was an extension to SCNVYO. This body, while fulfilling an admirable purpose, was in some ways limited. Youth sections of political parties were not allowed to Join, and the cut out age was too low. Hitherto these limitations had not been felt, but in the post-war years the idea of European cooperation at different levels was already being promoted. This was a dream that many people wished to see realised but Britain was not in line with the Continent. SCNVYO, the official national body representing young people was not in step. The solution, however, was not to tinker with its Constitution but for it to facilitate the foundation of a more wide-ranging body. Accordingly, an Agenda Committee for the 18-30 Conference was set up, and the YCW was a founder member. From now on in every month Pat’s diary records meetings of both SCNVYO and the 18-30 Conference.

After being demobbed Gerry Sherry, who had been national treasurer of the pre-war YCW, came to work part time at the headquarters while preparing to break into journalism, eventually joining the Catholic Herald. As conscription continued the Forces service was necessary and Gerry was able to help Pat in this, especially in finding funds to run it. He joined Pat in discussions with General Martin about the possibility of grants from various funds for the Forces. Eventually the money was forthcoming to cover two organisers.

By the middle of the year Pat was preparing for three months’ absence in Canada and the USA, and on June 10th he sailed, en route to the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Canadian JOC and the International Congress of the world JOC/YCW in Montreal.

At that time the anglophone/francophone division in Canada was most pronounced. It seemed that one country ended on the East side of the Rue St Laurent and another began on the West side. It was only recently that the first anglophone auxiliary bishop had been appointed to the archdiocese of Montreal. The Canadian JOC was quite strong but while their missionary zeal took them south into the Eastern seaboard states of the USA it never took them west to their fellow English-speaking Canadians. In fact there was one solitary section just beginning in Montreal with Father William Power, later Bishop of Antigonish, as chaplain, and Rom Maione as leader. Ten years later Rom was to be Pat’s successor as International President.

The International Congress was a success, and this in many ways. It showed visibly that the Jocist method of training was truly universal and not just European. Through informal gatherings as much as through the formal sessions a spirit of solidarity developed in the face of common problems. The presence of some delegates and chaplains from the United States was a reminder to Pat that the English YCW had taken on the task of extension in that country. Once the Congress was over he left for a Study Week in Long Island, and in the next two months he travelled as far as the Mid West. En route he addressed groups of priests in Manhattan, Hartford, Connecticut, and Washington DC. In early August there was a gathering at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana where the American delegates reported back to their members. Once this was over he made for Chicago with Monsignor Reynold Hillenbrand.

This was the most important part of his trip. While the YCW had been established in New York, due in part to the efforts of Father Wendell OP, on the West Coast in the Bay area of San Francisco, and in isolated spots across the forty eight states, Chicago had the most sections and the most chaplains. In fact in October of the previous year Cardinal Stritch had appointed two priests to work full time as chaplains assisting Mgr Hillenbrand with Catholic Action groups. They had both, Father Jack Egan and Father Bill Quinn, been at the International Congress in Montreal. These groups (YCW and YCS) had their headquarters in the Chancery building at 3 East Chicago Avenue. And it was there that Pat took part in a meeting of the YCW National Council. The key man in all that was developing was Mgr Hillenbrand. He had been Rector of the diocesan seminary and, before being removed for his advanced social views (his crime was that he thought the social encyclicals should be put into practice), he trained a number of priests who shared his enthusiasm for the lay apostolate and for social reform. Pat was convinced that he should be the general chaplain for the United States and so spent most of his time in Chicago with him13.

By the end of August Pat was back in London in time for the Seminarians’ Study Week, and for the National Council. Both of these were in September, one of the few months in the year when there were not one or more visits to Paris and Bruxelles for work of the International Bureau. In November he was a member of an official Catholic delegation which was received by King George in Buckingham Palace – the first occasion ever that such an event had occurred.

It was at this time that the remote preparations and negotiations began which were to result in the launching of the World Assembly of Youth, WAY. The Iron Curtain countries had promoted an international youth organisation called the World Federation of Democratic Youth, WFDY, which paralleled a similar move at the trade union level. Ernest Bevin, the British Foreign Secretary, was convinced that the West should make a swift and organised reply to this and was seconded in this by the US State Department. The vehicle, already in place, for doing this was the 18 – 30 Conference through its International Youth Committee, along with the US Young Adult Council. Late ’47 and early ’48 saw a great deal of behind the scenes activity, partly because the YCW, being an international movement, had far more regular contacts with leaders of youth organisations in other countries but also because Pat was the link between them and the 18-30 Conference.

In the late Spring of ’48 began the preparation for the visit of Cardijn and the International Bureau to Rome. A whole week in sessions of two and three days in Paris or Brussels was given over to this in the five weeks that preceded the party’s departure to Rome on Kay 19th. This was to be Pat’s introduction to the Roman scene in which he would be increasingly involved for the next twenty years.

Already before the war Cardijn had established the tradition of an annual visit to Rome, and had resumed it in 1946. This then was the visit for 1948. Apart from the de rigueur papal audience Pat accompanied Cardijn as he went his rounds. On one morning it was Cardinal Pizzardo and Msgr Montini. This latter was most important to Pat because it was the beginning of what was to be literally a friendship for life. Then in the late afternoon of the same day a visit to the “Black Pope”, Father Janssens, the General of the Jesuits. Pat noted that he was a Belgian, and obviously an old friend of Cardijn. The following day came his big test when he faced an audience unlike any before. Six months before, with the support of Cardinal Griffin, he had addressed the students of the Westminster seminary, St Edmund’s, Ware. But now he was to address the polyglot students of the Gregorian University in Rome. His subject was the same: the priest and the YCW. It was exhilarating – but exhausting.

But by the time he left he had begun to find his way round the “Vatican village.” He had met the Rectors of the English, Beda and Propaganda Colleges. In the Curia he was impressed by Cardinal Micara “who is a good friend of the movement and helped us enormously.” Micara had been Nuncio in Belgium. Two others he mentioned warmly were Msgr Fontenelli and Martens in the Secretariat of State. But the high spot was when the International Bureau had a twenty minute audience with Pope Pius XII. Pat was to write to a friend: “I must say I was very happy with the visit. Everyone was far more down to earth than I imagined they would be. Contact with the Holy Father renews all one’s courage. He was superb. It certainly hits one in the eye to meet someone so holy, so deeply good…. I don’t know whether it was the Irish in me or what. I think it was the biggest day of my life. His real goodness – yet his two feet firmly planted on the ground.”

The next big item on the agenda was the preparation for the international meeting called by the 18-30 Conference. In mid-June Pat was selected as a British delegate, and a month later the colonial delegates were to be met at the Colonial Office, and then at an official reception. Then Prank McCann, president of the Australian YCW, arrived am a delegate for him country. In early August came preparatory mast lags for the launching of WAY – this included a meeting with Barbara Ward who was to give the keynote speech to the conference which opened at Church House on August 12 and went on until the 20th. Pat was elected acting president, and in that capacity accompanied the provisional committee to tea with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on August 14th. Ten years after the little piecer left Hindley he was introducing his guests in No. 11 Downing Street. Within a few days the International Bureau claimed him again, Brussels, Paris, then Rome till the end of the month. But America was calling and he prepared to leave, but not before lunching with a civil servant from the Foreign Office. The Foreign Secretary had to be briefed about the progress of WAY.

On November 5th Pat arrived, with Father Hopkins, in New York. His programme was ambitious – it was to cover the continent from coast to coast, and to do this in four months. In the event, it turned out to be a period of constant travel by car, plane and train, that was to end tragically three months later in Oklahoma. The overall plan was to make Chicago the base. The reason was that this was where the national headquarters were situated, and it also in an area where the movement had taken root firmly. The plan was to spend the maximum time possible with the general chaplain, Mgr Hillenbrand and with the national team, to give them advice on training and development. Then to visit towns and cities where the YCW was established, primarily to discover if they were working on the right lines – in a country as large as the U.S.A. groups could, and indeed did, spring up calling themselves YCW which were a travesty of the real thing. After that there was the need to visit large urban conglomerates where the movement did not exist but which should prove fertile ground. In these areas the important contacts would be with bishops and priests. Finally, he had to seek every opportunity to raise money for the national headquarters and for the full time workers. In the first month there were two periods in Chicago and two in New York as well as side trips to Canada (Montreal) and Boston. Cardijn had arrived in Chicago, coming from Latin America, stayed five days and then moved on to New York whither Pat followed him to meet a delegation of the national team and chaplain from Canada. Later, still in this first month Pat went to Montreal and spent some days there, meeting Archbishop Charbonneau and addressing the students in the Major Seminary. From there he went to the arid area of Boston where Cardijn had been two years before and had left a very bad impression. It was not altogether his fault, but his dogmatic, downright approach was the worst thing he could have done in the circumstances. This was out of character, because usually when breaking new ground he did a great deal of research beforehand. Unfortunately he was guilty of several gaffes during his visits to the US. This led Pat to the conclusion that Cardijn had never really understood America and the Americans.

The second month included two stays in Chicago (where he spent Christmas) and visits to Milwaukee (addressed the students at the Major Seminary) and Detroit. In Chicago he met the redoubtable Bishop Sheil, the champion of the CYO, the Catholic Youth Organisation, who in the name of frankness, condemned the YCW root and branch. Pat in his notes on this interview wrote: “His condemnation of the YCW consisted of many comments but few reasons. . I felt really sorry for him… he was intolerant, vain… and above all pitiful… Yet a man who could be won to our ideas relatively easily, but who if won would be a liability not an asset at this stage.” Unhappily, Detroit was, like Boston, a city visited by Cardijn.

Then in early January began the great trek West. Tony Zivalich, the YCW national president, and Pat were to meet up with Mgr Hillenbrand and Carolyn Pezzullo, girls’ national president, in Los Angeles. But first they drove to Saint Louis for some visits. The same procedure was followed in Oklahoma City. A week later the team was united in Los Angeles. Valuable contacts were made with Bishop Manning and with the priests there as well as a visit to the Major Seminary. They then left for San Francisco and almost despair. They were appalled by the so-called YCW that they found there. What was worse, it had been visited and blessed by Cardijn himself. Pat commented: “Another indication that general visits of benediction by the Canon should only be paid when the YCW has become practically and truly established in a country.” The general conclusion was: “Must concentrate on new priests and new starts.” A beginning was made by a visit to the bishop and talks given at the Major Seminary. But worse was to follow. After a fruitful visit to Portland, Oregon, they moved on to Seattle. Pat was so horrified by what he found masquerading as the YCW there that, like a pontiff faced with heresy, he disbanded them on the spot. Then, to make a new start, the team addressed the students in the diocesan seminary.

How began the long drive back on February 1st. After Sacramento they crossed the Rockies in very bad weather conditions, and a week after they had started out were en route after lunch from Amarillo to Tulsa in Oklahoma. On the way they were involved in an accident where a man from another car was killed and Mgr Hillenbrand was seriously injured. Tony, Carolyn and Pat escaped with slight injuries but with considerable shock. Mgr Hillenbrand was hospitalised in Tulsa and was operated on the following day. They were to stay in Tulsa for a week, visiting Mgr each day till they were sure that he was on the mend. Then it was back to Chicago to tidy things up, and on to Washington, D.C. to confer with the sympathetic members of the Social Action Department of NCWC. He arrived back in London from New York on February 24th at 9.30 a.m. and left for Brussels on the 1.30 p.m. flight. There had been panic telegrams to him in the U.S. asking him to come back immediately.

One wonders how a human being could manage to survive such a crowded schedule day after day, week after week. In his diary Pat gives a clue to one of the ways in which he coped. In Chicago he normally stayed with Mgr Hillenbrand or with the family of one of the headquarters team, more often than not with Tony Zivalich. But for December 22nd, ten weeks after his arrival in New York, there is this entry: “Went off to the YMCA for a long sleep at 9 o’clock. I find it is the only way of not being overwhelmed – to get on my own every so often – the big problem in this work is having and keeping a peaceful mind and a fresh one to deal with all the different complications and problems. I find one of the hardest points in this work is to keep a smiling face and be accommodating to all the different people one stays with it is very heavy and tiring. To get away to the YMCA where one does not need to watch reactions and listen to a lot of nonsense about things that really don’t matter, is necessary.” Pathetically this entry ends with: “Could not sleep – room stuffy – people came in during the night to share rooms – not enough money for a private room.”