Historical reflections


The 60th birthday of the Melbourne YCW will be celebrated with joy and thanks by a large attendance at Mass on 9th September. I have been pleased to have heard so many former members of the YCW, both male and female; expressing gratitude for what the YCW (or in some cases the NCGM) has done for them.

The YCW was introduced in this Archdiocese in 1940-41, at a time when hierarchy, clergy and concerned lay people were looking for a type of catholic action that would inspire young school leavers. Fortunately, sufficient information had been obtained from overseas on the JOC of Belgium to enable experiments of its technique to be made in 1939. Fr Frank Lombard, chaplain to the Boys Club at Northcote, trialed the method in the meetings of the Club committee. Archbishop Mannix approved in that year of a Priests Committee to try the JOC. In 1940 Fr Lombard was appointed chaplain to the Catholic Boys Legion, and by October 1940 the YCW was named as the official Catholic Action for boys from 14 to 18 years. The CBL still conducted its sporting competitions until September 1941 when they were taken over by the YCW.

The tremendous change in the Jocist method was that it is based on formation through action. A key technique is the use of See – Judge – Act, enabling a person to contrast a real situation against what the ideal should be. After the judgment, action is to follow where necessary. This is an excellent theory but not easy to practice. In the YCW leaders meeting a Gospel discussion is included to assist in leaders having Christian benchmarks. In the YCW, the Gospel also helps leaders know Christ better.

The Diocesan Priests Committee conducted the YCW until late in 1941 when they formed the first Diocesan Executive, with Leo Tyrrell as President and Frank McCann as Secretary. Frank, earlier in the year, had been made Football registration secretary. Leo Tyrrell joined the Air Force in 1942. I was appointed President. Shortly afterwards Kevin Toomey was appointed Treasurer. We three, under the chaplaincy of Fr Lombard, consolidated the Movement for the next eighteen months.

Fr Lombard’s leadership was dynamic. He had a big vision and was a gifted public speaker. He was a man of 6ft 2in tall and 18 stone in weight, and was a great swimmer and keen surfer. He was very active in the diocese among priests, and was promoting the YCW in other dioceses whenever opportunity arose.

Father had great support whenever any bulk typing had to be done. Sister Mary Magdalen, who was in charge of the Commercial Class at Santa Maria College, would help. Also he had a small group of former pupils of that College who would do voluntary typing at night.

Father’s capacity to recruit voluntary help was evident when he formed the YCW Mens Extension Committee in 1943. Its purpose was to raise money for the Movement’s larger requirements, and it was not to interfere with the management of the YCW. The YCW is to be a movement for young workers run by young workers.

The YCW organised its first Xavier Youth Rally in 1942. In the next year the NCGM and YCS and Catholic Schools combined in the Xavier Rally in October, and the Rally was organised annually until 1948. The Mens Extension Committee helped in the transport of equipment etc. for the Rally. Dr Mannix attended each Rally, and in 1947 blessed the engagement rings of the couples who attended the first Pre-Cana Conference.

Leadership training, in addition to that obtained through action, was important. A leaders training camp was held at Mornington before the YCW was officially launched. In 1942 a training camp was held at St Bede’s, Mentone. A permanent training centre was purchased in 1943 at Cheltenham. It was named Maiya Wamba, and was opened by Dr Mannix on 5th March 1944. It served the YCW well for many years and was eventually sold and a building in the city was purchased for the YCW headquarters. Monies obtained when the headquarters was sold subsequently was invested by YCW Holdings, and earnings from that Fund make contributions to the running of the YCW in Melbourne and in other dioceses.

The Extension Committee assisted with two other purchases. In 1946, a residence was purchased at Albert Park for use as a Hostel for orphanage boys from Geelong who were working in Melbourne. In 1949, with Commonwealth and State funding, a building was purchased at Hawthorn to house young worker migrants from the United Kingdom. Over 130 migrants were accommodated there before the supply became too few to continue. The property was sold. The Extension Committee also helped in the purchase of the excellent Camp Site at Phillip Island.

The YCW Movement became National in May 1943. Frank McCann became full-time National Secretary in November 1943. In the same year Archbishop Simonds became Episcopal Chairman of the YCW. Archbishop Simonds raised the upper age limit to 25. He later raised it to 30. The raising of the age limited required a special agreement between the YCW and the CYMS over football teams.

The motto of the YCW was ‘A New Youth to Build a New Australia’. The way to change things was to do enquiries on specific areas of society. Thus the National YCW undertook campaigns on its See, Judge, Act process, for half-yearly or yearly periods. Some campaigns done in early years were:- The Mass, Communism, Family, Work, the Young Christian Worker, the Young Worker’s Social Responsibility, and My Future.

The Melbourne YCW published the first issue of New Youth, our YCW newspaper in February 1943. Three other issues were published in 1943. New Youth became a monthly paper published by National YCW from June 1944. It continued for many years.

The Melbourne Diocesan YCW and the Melbourne NCGM each maintained their independence but co-operated in many things. In local branches co-operation was closer and the two organisations combined in many activities.

The savings scheme in a local branch was very successful in 1942 and 1943. The YCW had plans to develop it, when the Federal Treasurer ruled we would be infringing the amendments to the Banking Act. So the Savings Scheme was closed. In seeking an alternative service to encourage savings the YCW chose co-operative housing legislation, which New South Wales had but Victoria did not. We made representations to the Victorian Government, along with other groups. The legislation was passed in 1944 and the YCW sponsored one of the first co-operative housing societies to be registered in Victoria, in 1945. Many more co-operative housing societies were sponsored by the YCW, and in 1957 our housing group formed a Permanent Building Society. In (date?) the whole group was bought out by the IOOF.

The first National Conference was held at Melbourne in 1944. In subsequent years up till 1950, Conferences were held at Brisbane, Newcastle, Adelaide, Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane. Melbourne YCW was always well represented. In 1947 I had the honour of representing the Australian YCW at the International YCW Congress in Montreal. It was the first time I met Canon Cardijn. He was a most impressive man. He was a great speaker. Even with his accent I could appreciate his deep conviction in what he was saying

The Australian YCW was honored with visits by Cardijn in 1958 and 1966. In 1958 he called personally at Frank McCann’s home and at our home, and met our families. The Australian YCW and members past and present owe a debt of great gratitude to Cardinal Cardijn for the splendid technique he developed, and from which we benefited. Over the years Australian YCW leaders and chaplains have visited overseas countries to meetings and conferences, and some have worked in important positions for overseas YCWs.

In 1957, 41 YCW members, 16 NCGM members, 4 chaplains and 1 chaperone attended the International YCW Pilgrimage in Rome. 4 Melbourne persons attended the International YCW Council Meeting held after the Pilgrimage.

The YCW is a Movement of education, service and representation.

Education was provided through Leaders Groups, Leaders having teams to influence, talks and discussions at general meetings, educational themes at youth rallies, YCW publications such as New Youth, Leaders Bulletins, Annual Campaign Programme’s, and Training at holiday camps and from 1943 at weekends for leaders at Maiya Wamba (the leaders training centre purchased in 1943).

Also there were talks for Adolescents, pre-Cana Conferences, preparation talks for National Service Training, and learn-to-dance classes and public speaking.

The motto, ‘A Service for Every Need’ was put into practice by a wide range of services:

Sporting competitions, especially football, cricket, athletics, swimming, basketball, table tennis and boxing.

Apprenticeship Advisory Bureau

Employment Advice

Accommodation Bureau

Savings Scheme (until stopped by Government)

Group building of houses

Co-operative Housing

Co-operative Building

Co-operative Insurance

Credit Unions

Co-operative Land Settlement

Hostel for Migrants

Hostel for Orphans

Holiday Camps

Prison (Young Offenders) Visitation

Special Services for Hungarian Youth

Friendly support at YCW Headquarters or at local branch.

In the early years we made representations on behalf of young workers:

  • on wages for youth
  • on apprentices’ conditions
  • seeking legislation for Co-operative Housing and for general Co-operatives
  • on interest rates for Housing Loans
  • seeking tighter legislation on pornographic literature.
Time does not permit going into detail on all of the services. I would mention, though, the great success of the Football Competition over many years. It became the largest football competition in Australia. It reached its peak in 1966, with 165 teams. The competition closed in 1986. Bill Cassidy organized this competition for 21 years. Bill goes in for long service, because he has been organizing this Luncheon for 32 years.

Before closing, I want to pay tribute to the people I think did most to give us the YCW. Most are well-known – Cardinal Cardijn, Father Lombard, Archbishop Mannix, Archbishop Simonds. With them I include two laymen. One is Frank McCann, lay founder of the Australian YCW and founding Manager of the YCW Trading Co-operative. The other layman is Kevin Kelly, who was a member of the Campion Society in Melbourne in the 1930’s. He was responsible for obtaining literature and information on the Belgian JOC and for pushing for its adoption in Melbourne.

I believe the YCW did a great job when it started here, and flourished with ups-and-downs until well in the 1970’s. Society changes have made the young worker world much different in the last two decades. For example, education, unemployment, working conditions, mobility, entertainment. Today, who is a young worker? He or she can be a tertiary or secondary education student, a casual employee, or unemployed. It is difficult to have young workers join an organisation. In Melbourne the YCW is very small in numbers but it is dedicated, and is part of a National Movement. National office is in Sydney, and the National YCW has an executive of three lay people and a part-time chaplain. The Australian YCW is affiliated with the International YCW which has its headquarters in Brussels.

In May last year the International Council of the YCW met in Brussels on the occasion of the 75th Anniversary of the founding of the Belgian JOC. That Council issued a 4-year Plan of Action to commence in this year. The aim of the Plan is “Just Work for All”. The Australian YCW was represented at the Meeting and supports the Plan.

Our Melbourne and National YCW are in touch with Government Departments, Catholic Education Offices, and Trade Unions on several issues. The current major National YCW campaign is on seeking better conditions for casual workers. The Australian Council of Trade Unions is supporting this campaign.

In conclusion, I say thank you to all the young workers, both girls and boys, who were at different times the Young Christian Workers Movement since its formation in 1941. Thanks, also, to bishops and priests who encouraged and showed trust in them. May the present YCW members have the strength to persevere, and may we support them if asked.


The Melbourne YCW had its beginnings in the late 1930s. The interest in starting Catholic action was strong. Archbishop Mannix, with the approval of the Bishops of Australia, had established the Australian National Secretariat of Catholic Action in Melbourne in 1938. One layman, Kevin Kelly, a member of the Campion Society, had become very impressed with an overseas report of the J.O.C. He obtained literature on it and in 1939, published an Australian Catholic Truth Society pamphlet entitled “J.O.C. – Young Christian Worker”.

The pamphlet and Kevin’s personal advocacy to A.N.S.C.A. and to a group of young priests including Father Frank Lombard resulted in the priests experimenting with JOCist methods. Fr Lombard who was ordained in 1936 and who was a curate at Northcote experimented with the JOCist method in meetings of his parish Boys Club. Father had been looking for something spiritually more effective than the C.B.L.

In July 1939, with the approval of Archbishop Mannix, a priests committee was formed. In October 1940 the CBL name was changed to YCW, making the YCW the official Catholic action movement for boys aged 14 to 18. The CBL name still applied to the sporting competitions until September 1941 when they were also changed to YCW. These changes were very disappointing to priests and other persons who had given splendid service to the CBL.

The Priests committee conducted the YCW until late in 1941 they formed a Diocesan Executive with Leo Tyrell President and Frank McCann as Secretary. Frank had earlier in the year been appointed football registration secretary. Leo Tyrell joined the Air Force in 1942 and Ted Long was appointed President. Shortly afterwards Kevin Toomey was appointed Treasurer. For the next 18 months these three under Father Lombard’s chaplaincy consolidated the movement.

Fr Lombard’s leadership was dynamic. He was promoting the YCW in other Dioceses whenever opportunity arose. He had excellent typing support from the Commercial Class at Santa Maria College Northcote whenever he needed bulk typing done. Also through past pupils of Santa Maria he had a small group of typists who did voluntary typing at night.

Father’s capacity to recruit volunteers saw the formation in 1943 of the YCW Men’s Extension Committee to raise money for the Movement’s requirements which were beyond the ability of the YCW itself.

In October 1942 the YCW organised the first combined youth rally. The NCGM and the YCS and Catholic schools participated. Those rallies continued until 1948 and were impressive public displays of the strength of the Catholic Youth Movements. In December 1942 - January 1943 a leaders training camp was held at St Bede’s Mentone.

In 1943 with the help of the Men’s Extension Committee, a 9 acre property with a large dwelling was purchased for use as a leaders training centre. It was called Maiya Wamba and was opened by Dr Mannix on 5th March 1944.

1943 was a year of big development. In May the movement became national. Archbishop Justin Simonds was appointed Episcopal Chairman of the YCW. Frank McCann was appointed full-time National Secretary in November 1943. In May there were 30 parishes with leaders groups and by October 1943 there were 47 parishes with leaders groups. Archbishop Simonds raised the age limit to 25 years old, and later to 30. In February 1943 the first issue of New Youth was published by Melbourne YCW.

In October 1943 the first national conference was held in Melbourne.

In 1943 an agreement with CYMS re football.

In June 1944 National New Youth Monthly commenced.

1944 –

Co-operative Housing Societies Act passed in Victorian Parliament.

50 branches, 2500 reg. members, 7500 in services.

1945 –

Formation of YCW Co-op Housing Society with 150 people present.

Second national conference was held in Brisbane

1946 –

Purchase of building at Albert Park for use as Hostel for Orphans from Geelong who have started work.

Frank McCann ill – Ted Long acting national secretary; when FMcC resumes, TL stays

1947 –

Members in 66 branches, 3300 members, 9900 in services.

Christmas Camp at Kinglake

Cana Conference held

Pre-Cana conference – idea brought back from Ted Long’s visit to Canada, the USA and New Zealand in 1947

Dr Mannix blessed engagement rings of 50 couples

National Conference at Adelaide

Accom. bureau (?)

1948 –

Apprenticeship Advisory Bureau

Life Saving Club

YCW Co-op trading

National Conference Melbourne

1949 –

YCW Accom. Bureau

Adolescent Training Course

National Conference Perth

Migrant hostel purchased

1950 –

16 Youths arrive from UK for Hostel

1951 –

Military Trainers Talks

7th National Conference Brisbane

1952 –

Camp at Phillip Island blessed and opened

1954 –

Accom. Bureau

Exam of Cwth/State App. Report

YCW to assist Asia Youth group

1957 –

YCW Pilgrimage 41+16+1+4 1st Intl. Council