History of YCW in Australia


The history of the Y.C.W. in Australia really began with a decision taken after the fourth Plenary Council in 1937 to set up a National Secretariat of Catholic Action in Australia. Two laymen were appointed to the Secretariat and began experiments under the advice and guidance of an Episcopal Committee. Part of this work of experimentation aimed at adapting the J.O.C. technique to Australian conditions.

In the very beginning the boys’ and girls’ sections grew autonomously and took the separate names of Young Christian Workers and National Catholic Girls’ Movement. During those early years each section established its own individuality of character but, for all that, there remained a very close national unity which made the change of name made by the girls’ section in 1959 a relatively simple step.

In 1941 Archbishop Mannix accepted the Young Christian Workers Movement as the official Catholic Action movement for the youth of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. The growth of the movement was rapid and in 1943 it was established as a national movement and the first full-time workers were appointed. By 1959 the boys’ section was set up in twenty Dioceses m Australia. There are now eleven full-time workers, 210 leaders’ groups, 77 teams, more than 1300 leaders and 10,000 members directly covered by General Meetings and services. The same year 1941 saw the official establishment of the girls’ section as a specialised Catholic Action body. The early development was aided by the Grail Ladies who assisted in training leaders and who had charge of the movement from 1943 until September 1944. In 1945 the movement began on a national basis. By 1959 the girls’ movement was set up in 18 Dioceses. There are eleven full-time workers, 275 leaders groups, 268 sub-groups, 1598 leaders, 1067 training in sub-groups, 1691 general members and 28,820 on the census.

In 1959 a very important step was taken at the National Council of the girls’ section held in Canberra. This meant that the girls’ section would henceforth adopt the name and badge of the Young Christian Workers’ Movement. Affiliation of the girls’ section with the International Y.C.W. may now follow. The Australian Hierarchy gave its approval to the suggested change of name at its meeting in January 1959.

The policy of separate executives for boys’ and girls’ sections at National and Diocesan levels and of separate formation for boys and girls remains unchanged. Co-ordination at the top level will be achieved through a combined National Executive comprising National Chaplain, President and Secretary of each section, while the internal affairs of each section will be the responsibility of the respective National executives.


“A service for every need” was one of the first aims of the Y.C.W. in Australia. It can be truly said that, while not forgetting the importance of both the educational and representativ« aspects of Y.C.W. work, services have been developed in the Australian Y.C.W. that compare more than favourably with any Y.C.W. in the world. It was a survey of the Y.C.W. services during his visit to Australia that prompted Mgr Cardijn to remark, “Your Y.C.W. has developed as I dreamt a Y.C.W. should develop.”

Some of the services operating in various dioceses throughout the country are:

Spiritual Services: These are many, but amongst the most common are retreats, monthly Communions, Communion breakfasts, participation in Eucharistic processions and the like.

Educational Services: Foremost amongst the educational services are the Pre-Cana conferences. These conferences are now operative in most dioceses and are attended by thousands of young people annually. In their most usual form they cover a series or nine lectures and discussions incorporating every important spiritual and material help that is necessary for the young engaged couple. Besides, there are “Preparation for life” talks for both boys and girls, with especial emphasis on the school-leaver. “Youth Weeks’ which have as their aim to bring the Y.C.W. to the notice of the whole parish (including the parents) are another avenue of education in common use.

Recreational Services: In keeping with the Australian climate, all young people have the desire to participate in leisure activities, especially sport. The Y.C.W., therefore, has been to the fore in providing such recreational services as the needs of the young worker have demanded. Included amongst these are:

Football, cricket, basketball, tennis, swimming, athletics, badminton, softball, hikes, picnics, learn to dance classes, dances, socials, and many others.

Cultural Services: Debating, public speaking and dramatics, as well as stimulating interest in reading and good libraries are typical of what is being done under this head.

Social Services: Because of that spirit of service which has become part of so many leaders, it is not surprising that the Y.C.W. has found it necessary to develop a service of accommodation for young people without proper homes and for those migrating to the cities. To supplement the employment service of the Government, especially to cater for the needs of the young apprentice and to give guidance to the “dead-end” worker, an employment service has been set up in some dioceses. Visitation of the sick, prison visitation, rehabilitation of offenders and vocational guidance are services to be found in some places. One of the great needs of our youth is to encourage them to save more and emphasis is given this problem in many dioceses. In Melbourne the services of the Permanent Building Society, which is sponsored by the Y.C.W. Co-operative Society, is used to great advantage in helping regular savings.

The Y.C.W. Co-operative Society is, indeed, an example of what can grow from the spirit of service fostered in leaders.

This society, conceived and controlled by members of the Y.C.W., today sponsors 20 housing societies that have been responsible for the erection of 2200 homes in the last 10 years, a Trading Division which gives service to young people in every household commodity, an insurance division and many credit societies.


So far the girls have concentrated principally on two spheres of service activity, educational and recreational, and have been organized at three levels: parish, regional, and Diocesan.

a) Services at Parish Level. These are organized by the local leaders themselves according to the needs which exist in their parish. “Girl of Today” or “Mater Amabilis” courses consist of a series of talks and discussions, usually five or six in number, deal with questions of the girl and her vocation in life, her home, work, and leisure problems, courtship, saving and clothing. Such talks are given by priests, doctors, and other suitable persons.

Sporting teams provide a recreational service to which leaders may bring the girls of the Parish. Basketball, Softball, table tennis and other indoor sports have proved popular.

Courses in domestic arts, such as cooking and dressmaking and First Aid classes, have been provided with some success by a number of parish branches. The services of an expert in these matters is necessary.

A branch library of books and pamphlets is an excellent service which can be built up over a period without great difficulty.

Youth Weeks, in conjunction with the boys, are a most valuable educational service if organized with a knowledge of the needs of the parish youth.

b) Services at Regional and Diocesan Level. Pre-Cana Courses, providing pre-marriage instruction and guidance for engaged couples, have been organized successfully in a number of Dioceses, and may be arranged in either a parish, or a region to serve parishes, or centrally in a city or large town. Over the recent years, thousands of engaged couples have availed themselves of this service.

Lunch hour talks, arranged in several cities, have provided a series of talks for girls, dealing with vocation and problems of the working girl. They normally extend over a five or six weeks period with one talk each week, but can be adapted to suit local requirements. One Diocese has an average attendance of one thousand girls on each day.

Accommodation service, which finds suitable accommodation for girls working and living away from home, either permanently or temporarily, is a most useful service, and in some cities, a most necessary one.

Employment service, which not only finds employment, but provides a means of vocational guidance, is likewise a useful and necessary service. Some Dioceses have made a special feature of the employment and accommodation services, but perhaps the need has not been sufficiently seen in many places.

A Reading Service, providing guidance for groups in choice of reading, and providing books either for sale or for loan, is provided by some Dioceses, and could be usefully developed by others.

Social life is provided through dances, balls, social evenings, picnics, etc., which are organized in conjunction with the Y.C.W. boys either locally, regionally or centrally by the Diocesan Executive.

Under the heading of services, we may also consider Retreats, training days, summer schools and study days, which aim immediately at the formation of the individuals concerned. Retreats organized annually are in some cases arranged by local groups, in other cases are arranged in a Region or central Diocesan House. Dioceses provide a retreat for Executive members, and National Executive members make an enclosed Retreat of at least two days’ duration annually. Retreats may be organized specifically for Leaders or members, or organized by the members for all girls of a parish. Recently many parishes have provided a one-day “Day of Recollection” from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in a local convent or Church in places where an enclosed Retreat is not practical.


There is a growing awareness that such supplementary training is essential if the movement is to progress. Such training days on the one hand concentrate on the technique and spirit of the movement, providing talks and discussions on the aim of the movement, its spirit, and the use of its technique and at a later stage of development consider the problems of everyday life. It is encouraging to see the acquisition of permanent quarters by several Dioceses, for such quarters provide a readily available location for regular training days, and so guarantee some permanence and continuity in this form of training. At the same time, more attention is being paid to training days in Country regions to provide for groups which cannot attend centrally organized days.

Training Schools follow the pattern of a training weekend, but extend over a period up to a week. Frequently, those concerned will work during the day, returning at night to a house or convent for talks and discussions and live together for a week. These schools are provided annually by some Dioceses, and now the National Executive holds such a school for its members quarterly. Several Diocesan Executives do likewise.

Study Days, held in conjunction with the young men, provide an opportunity to study together the problems discovered by both sections of the movement.

Diocesan or State Conferences bring Leaders of one Diocese together, or of all Dioceses together on a State basis, to discuss mutual problems and opportunities. Such conferences can provide great impetus to groups and Dioceses concerned if well planned, and if geared to development through concrete action. Four States hold annual State Conferences at this stage, and many Dioceses hold a Diocesan Conference regularly during each year.