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I joined the NCGM in February 1950 just before my sixteenth birthday after two years of high school. I resigned in August 1959 just before my marriage. For the first two years of membership I just enjoyed being a member and thought it was a great organisation to be part of. After hearing a talk at my first Summer School which had some reference to being apostles I began to think what the Movement was really about. It dawned on me that the Movement was about Christianising the world just as the apostles and early Christians had done. Even then I had enough sense to realise that 12 men alone could not have achieved the kind of success the early Church had on their own. The bulk of the work must have been achieved through the efforts of the early converts. They must have convinced others by talking to them and by the example of their daily lives.
What the Movement was trying to do was to establish a true Christian community that reflected the teachings of Christ in every aspect of life. The basic key to that was in transforming leaders and others into true Christians who understood and lived according to Christian ideas and values.
I was conscious that membership of the Movement was making changes in my life and in the lives of other members. I didn't go much further than that as I was too busy attending meetings, organising activities and focusing on the day-to-day tasks that went with being a member of a group, as well as working full-time and participating in the other elements which make up a person's life — family, friends and social activities.
It wasn't until I left the Movement and completed a university degree and my children were not so demanding that I began to reflect on the fact that my time in the Movement had been one of the most enjoyable and rewarding periods in my life and that I had a self-esteem and self-confidence that many of my contemporaries did not have. Besides this, many of the practical skills I possessed for organising events, leading discussions and designing programs were based on what I had done in my time in the NCGM.
I realised that this experience was typical of many past members. What was it about the Movement experience that makes women now aged between 30 and 80 years to say that their membership of the Movement had a profound effect on them and that they still use the techniques the Movement taught in their daily lives.
The question for me was: why and how did this Movement which began in the 1940s and is still in existence today have such an impact? Coupled with this was the fact that apart from the priest chaplains there were virtually no adults involved. Members were aged from 14 to 25. So everything was done by young women who had not reached their full maturity. I reasoned that it was an important story especially considering the fact that the Movement had an all female membership in the first 25 years (1945-1970).
Ordinary young women doing extraordinary things
Another factor in this reflection was that if the Movement had had such an effect on the members why was it when I read a detailed history of the Catholic Church in Australia that the Movement was covered in one line? Maybe in the broad sweep of a couple of hundred years that was acceptable but in understanding what ordinary Catholic young women thought, believed and achieved it wasn't. It deserved more.
At first it seemed a fairly simple task to tell the story. With further thought it became more difficult. How could anyone appreciate or understand the Movement without understanding how it operated to achieve its aims? How could anyone understand its aims without understanding how it was organised, how it trained and formed the members and what were the characteristics which made it all possible and so special? On top of that was the question of why and how it came into being? How did the Church go about setting up a national movement from scratch based on principles that people had only heard or read about? How do you take an idea and bring it to life and fruition in a coherent, logical and workable manner?
So what started off as a task to simply tell a story developed into a task to explore, analyse and explain the ideals which inspired it, the principles on which it was based, how it was established, how it was organised, what it actually did and the impact it had on the members, non-members and society.
Geraldine Crane October 1999
The Brisbane NCGM/YCW (Girls) Story 1945-1970