Laeken and Brussels



1.1 Easter 1912 

Finally, Cardijn would get his opportunity to implement his social action ideals when he arrived in the parish of Notre Dame at Laeken at Easter in 1912. As we know he began his apostolate by taking responsibility for the women’s social action, in which his first key collaborator would be Victoire Cappe. Soon after his arrival the new vicar would also make contact with a young Fernand Tonnet, who as we know would later become a founder of the YCW. 

1.2 Cardijn and the Sillon in 1912 

Henri Tonnet, brother of Fernand, recorded his impressions of an early meeting with Cardijn at his apartment as follows: 

‘On parla enquêtes. L’Allemagne vint d’abord. Des noms défilèrent : Ketteler, Kölping, Vogelsang. Mais l’Angleterre eut le pompon : Ben Tillette, Tom Mann, des leaders et des leaders aux noms impossibles furent portés aux nues. Ce que nous devions en retenir c’est que “Labour Party” et “travaillisme” n’étaient pas synomymes d’antireligion. Nous assistions, intrigués, à une apologie du trade-unionism qu’il réédita très souvent. Elle nous parut sinon excessive du moins peu conciliable avec notre mentalité belge. De France, on parla peu… C’est plus tard que nous apprîmes qu’il avait assisté à une Semaine Sociale. On cita de Mun, Le Play, sans trop de conviction. Et Sangnier avec une sympathie plus grande’ (H. Tonnet 1961: 14). 

(‘We spoke about enquiries. Germany came first with a list of different names: Ketteler, Kölping, Vogelsang. But England had place of honour: Ben Tillett, Tom Mann, leaders and leaders with impossible names were unveiled. What we had to grasp was that the ‘Labour Party’ and ‘workerism’ were not synonymous with anti-religion. Intrigued, we listened to a defence of trade unionism which he repeated often in different versions. This defence appeared, if not excessive, at least difficult to reconcile with our Belgian mentality. About France, we spoke very little… It was only later that we learnt that he had attended a Social Week. One spoke of de Mun, Le Play, but without much conviction. And of Marc Sangnier with greater sympathy.’) 

One has the impression here that Cardijn has transferred his previous boundless enthusiasm for the Sillon to Ben Tillett’s English trade unions. Does this mean that Cardijn has now abandoned his sillonnist ideals? Here I believe it is important to notice that the Germanic and English experiences quoted by Cardijn are all connected to the worker struggle. What we are seeing then is the first important difference in Cardijn’s orientation from that of the Sillon’s primarily democratic orientation. As we will see, far from abandoning sillonnist methods, Cardijn and his partners set out to implement and reorient them into a new vision of a worker movement. 

In addition, it is also important to note that by 1910 many sillonnists were themselves searching for a way out of the difficulties in which the Sillon had become entangled. It was that year that the sillonnist lawyer from Rouen, Edward Montier, published his book, Les essaims nouveaux (Montier 1910), literally ‘New Beehives’, implying the need for new initiatives hiving off the original nest. In fact, the very title of the book, ‘Les essaims nouveaux’ is a play on words alluding to an earlier book, published in 1903 by the priest and Sillon chaplain, Jacques Debout, of which the title was Les nouvelles Semailles, Marc Sangnier et le Sillon (‘New Sowings, Marc Sangnier and the Sillon’). 

Montier himself felt that there was a need for something new which would focus more exclusively on the needs of young workers, going beyond the Sillon’s joining together of workers and students. And it is clear that it is in this line that Cardijn also wanted to go. 

Les nouvelles semailles, Marc Sangnier et le Sillon (New Sowings, Marc Sangnier and the Sillon) by Jacques Debout. Another sillonnist, Edward Montier, later turned around the title to write Les essaims nouveaux (New Hives) meaning it was time to leave the old hive and start a new one – advice that Cardijn, Tonnet and Cappe would follow. 


According to Cardijn’s own statement, his first objective upon arrival at Laeken was to create a network of social works to reach the masses’ (‘un réseau d’oeuvres pour pénétrer dans la masse’) (Cardijn 1958: AC12A; cited in Walckiers 1981: 163). Evidently, founding social works was far from original even if Cardijn did bring an extraordinary measure of motivation and organisation to the task. More significant was the orientation of these ‘works’ which although having a purpose in themselves were merely the starting point of a much broader apostolic initiative. 

1. Victoire Cappe from Liège 

Moreover, from the start Cardijn chose to bypass the more conservative Brussels Catholic secretariat for womens’ works, preferring to link his women’s programs directly to the national secretariat of the Oeuvres Sociales Féminines (OSF), of which the director was a young woman from Liège, Victoire Cappe (Note 18). 

Victoire Cappe 1886-1927 

What is also significant here is the fact that Cappe had been introduced to the Sillon and its ideas and methods by a progressive priest, l’abbé Paisse, who also introduced her to the tenets of the Liège School of social action of l’abbé Pottier (Eaton 1954: 57). In 1907 she founded the Syndicat de l’Aiguille (Needleworkers Union) on the model of its French counterpart at Lyons. In 1909 she gave a much remarked speech at the Catholic Congress of Malines of that year, which also attracted the attention of Cardinal Mercier, who henceforth arranged for her to study with Professor Brants, presumably in the same course which Cardijn had followed in 1906-07. Following this formation, Cardinal Mercier asked her in 1912, aged only 26, to take responsibility for developing women’s social works in Belgium. She seems to have first met Cardijn in 1911 when Professor Maurice Defourny, another of his former professors, who proposed Cardijn as a speaker for one of the study circles she had founded (Note 19). 

2. A Method of Formation 

We can find the main conceptions of Victoire Cappe in her 1914 book, La Femme Belge, a collection mostly of her speeches together with those of other important women activists, including the Christian feminist leader, Louise Van den Plas (Cappe 1914). Particularly striking in this book is the speech Cappe delivered at Malines in 1909, before she had studied at Louvain. Speaking of the Formation Professionelle et Sociale de la Femme she proposes the following methodology: 

a) Enquiries: This ‘first degree’ of formation must be ‘précis, exacts et classés dans un ordre qui permette d’en tirer des conclusions pratiques. A cette fin l’enquête sera guidée par un questionnaire bien conçu’ (‘precise, exact and classified in an order which will enable the drawing of practical conclusions. To this end, the enquiry will be guided by a well designed questionnaire’); 

b) Study Circles: The second degree comprises monthly meetings for ‘une trentaine de jeunes filles et de dames appartenant à des professions et à des conditions diverses’ (‘thirty or so young girls and ladies belonging to various professions and backgrounds’) ; 

c) The ‘Troisième Degré’ (Third Degree) is divided into 

i) Propaganda Section which are weekly meetings at which the gospel is read and made ‘applicable à la vie courante ou au genre d’apostolat auquel nous nous dévouons’ (‘made applicable to current life or to the kind of apostolate in which we are involved’). Each person takes a turn at being president and secretary, and each one presents a report to be discussed; 

ii) Central Committee: Once or twice a year, special meetings would be held to ‘coordonner, à synthésiser et à unifier l’ensemble de connaissances spéciales’ (‘coordinate, synthesise and to bring together the range of particular expertises’); these meetings being prepared by a Central Committee made up of the different groups of the country. 

Other articles in her book expand upon these methods. In a 1911 speech, Feminine Study Circles (Les cercles d’études féminines), given at Nivelles where Jean Belpaire was responsible for social works, she describes the study circle as ‘une véritable école de formation pour ses membres’ (‘a genuine school of formation for its members’). She emphasised the importance of knowing ‘le milieu dans lesquelles elles vivent’ (‘the milieu in which they live’), and adapted her method to the needs of ‘jeunes ouvrières’ (‘young women workers’) (Cappe 1914: 21). In another article dating from 1911, The Feminine Salary (Le Salaire féminin), she divides her presentation into three sections: i) Les faits; ii) Les principes; iii) Les remèdes (Cappe 1914: 55) — facts, principles, solutions — an unmistakable anticipation of Cardijn’s see, judge and act . 

However, these methods of Victoire Cappe are none other than the ‘methods’ which the Sillon itself had been promoting and developing since 1898 (Note 20) and which was already outlined in Louis Cousin’s Vie et doctrine du Sillon. Although she cites various sources, Cappe quotes at length (Cappe 1914: 43) from a brochure, Study Circles for Young Girls (Les cercles d’études de jeunes filles) published by Eugène Beaupin, the former chaplain to the Jeune Garde of the Sillon as well as of the women’s groups of the Sillon, and who was also in personal contact with the OSF (Note 21). 

On the other hand, Victoire Cappe’s presentation of the method is perhaps clearer and more complete than any equivalent presentation by the sillonnists. Moreover, whereas the (male) sillonnists were often concerned with action on a large scale, Cappe seems to better combine the development of action at the personal level with social action. In this sense, Cappe’s orientation corresponds closely to that of the women’s groups of the Sillon who had often reproached their male counterparts for their preoccupation with theoretical issues and grand actions, forgetting the importance of the small and personal actions (IMS: MS 17) (Note 22). Here we can also note that the article in Cappe’s book by Louise Van den Plas is entitled Les ligues sociales d’acheteurs (Purchasers social League), a cooperative which had been pioneered in France by the Sillon women’s groups (Caron 1967: 491). 

Marguerite Renard of the Sillon Ladies Groups 

at Nancy, France: 

‘What I would like to do for an apostolate, as far as I am able, 

would be to help others to do their duty, 

to achieve for themselves what I would like to do for myself.’ 

With this knowledge, we can see why Cardijn would have sought out the assistance of Victoire Cappe when he began his apostolate with women at Laeken. In fact, when we look at the work done at Laeken, the sillonnist imprint, as interpreted by Victoire Cappe, is unmistakable: the enquiries, the method of the study circles, a coordinating group, etc. (Joret 1970: 13; Bragard 1990: 61). 

There can be no doubt then that Victoire Cappe and Joseph Cardijn came together by mutual attraction based on their common sillonnist roots. And when towards 1914 Cardijn coined the trilogy voir-juger-agir (Bragard 1990: 38), this stroke of genius summarised succinctly a whole methodology previously developed (mainly) by the Sillon (Note 23), and which was already being applied in study circles for young women workers by a laywoman from Liège. Whereas the sillonnist initiative had succeeded in launching study circles based on a life and action methodology in France and beyond, Cardijn’s brilliantly simple see-judge-act would enable the propagation of the sillonnist method around the world. 

3. The Development of a Young Women Workers Movement 

By the early 1920s, the Laeken initiative had grown to national dimensions, with young women workers groups in full expansion. Yet, even though the movement was soon to find its definitive identity, traces of the sillonnist source are still visible. 

Under the leadership of Victoire Cappe, the name chosen for the new journal of the movement launched in 1922 was Joie et Travail (Joy and Work), another echo, it would seem of the Central Study Group of the Sillon ladies groups, whose bulletin had been entitled Prière et Travail (Prayer and Work)(IMS MS 17). Moreover, this new bulletin was apparently essentially the work of students or former students of the École Sociale at Heverlee, which became a source of tension in the movement. 

In fact, the early girls groups at Laeken did involve the participation of young women from middle class milieux, a practice which had evidently continued (Bragard 1990: 83). Here again one has the impression of Victoire Cappe’s attachment to the old sillonnist ideal of students and workers collaborating, a concept which had already caused much conflict within the Sillon, resulting in the first major split in the Sillon, which had resulted in the forced resignation of Secretary-General Charles d’Hellencourt in 1905 (Caron 1967: 360). 


3.1 Fernand Tonnet and the Sillon 

We now turn to Fernand Tonnet (Note 24), who had moved with his family family to Laeken from Molenbeek in 1908. 

Fernand Tonnet 1894-1945 

Writing of the young Tonnet, Marguerite Fiévez states that: 

‘Il admire sans réserve “Le Sillon” de France dans son christianisme dynamique et conquérant et aussi dans sa courageuse soumission à l’Église qui vient de le condamner. Visiblement, il souffre de cette interdiction qui réduit à néant de beaux espoirs de conquête chrétienne parmi le peuple’ (Fiévez 1945: 34) 

(‘He unreservedly admired the Sillon from France for its dynamic and conquering Christianity and also for its courageous submission to the Church which had just condemned it. Visibly, he suffered from the prohibition which reduced to nothing so many beautiful hopes of Christian conquest among the people.’) 

When the Sillon was condemned in 1910, Fernand Tonnet was a sixteen year old student at the Institut Saint-Louis in Brussels. Fernand Tonnet’s brother, Henri, who had joined a youth group at Laeken the Jeune Garde in 1909, also indicates that Edward Montier’s book Les Essaims Nouveaux ‘eut un grand retentissement et séduisit beaucoup de jeunes Belges par la mystique sillonniste qui s’en dégageait’ (‘had a great impact and seduced many young Belgians with the sillonnist mystique with which it was impregnated’) (H. Tonnet 1957: 18) (Note 25). 

It would therefore appear highly likely that Fernand Tonnet had a knowledge of the Sillon at this quite early stage, well before the arrival of Cardijn at Laeken. 

3.2 Tonnet at Quiévrain 

The following year in April 1911 Tonnet’s father, who was a customs officer, was transferred to Quiévrain on the Belgo-French border. Fernand, abandoning his studies, followed his family for a stay which would have a powerful influence on his future. 

At the parish of St Martin’s, Quiévrain, he made contact with a young vicar, Fr Georges Abrassart (Note 26), who according to the description of Henri Tonnet, was a ‘convinced partisan of the Liege School) (‘tenant convaincu de l’École de Liège’) (H. Tonnet 1964: 14). Even more significantly, Fr Abrassart ‘had inhaled, in the coal country (of the Borinage region), the penetrating and healthy influence of the Sillon of Marc Sangnier’ (‘avait aussi respiré, au pays des terrils, le souffle pénétrant et bienfaisant du “Sillon” de Marc Sangnier’). In the words of H. Tonnet, Abrassart: 

‘rythmait avec joie les éloquentes images (de Sangnier) : “Le christianisme seul engendre la vraie démocratie”. – “L’homme d’action est celui qui se fait le champion de ses croyances”. – “L’ordre économique n’est pas humain s’il ne laisse au pauvre que la liberté de mourir de faim”. – “Conquête du peuple”. – “Faire des apôtres”. – “Cultiver et embellir les âmes”. Slogans, qu’un jour Fernand allait reprendre à son tour et faire vibrer devant les auditoires de jeunes’ (H. Tonnet 1964: 14). 

(‘joyfully chanted the eloquent images (of Marc Sangnier): “Christianity alone can generate true democracy”. – “The man of action is he who makes himself the champion of his beliefs”. – “The economic order is not human if it leaves to the poor the liberty to die of hunger”. – “Conquest of the people”. – “Make apostles”. – “Cultivate and beautify souls”. – Slogans that one day Fernand would take up in his own turn and intone before young audiences.’) 

Now in France despite the ‘condemnation’ of the Sillon, many local groups had continued to function still applying the same apostolic methods. Although some of these groups had combined to form the Sillon catholique, many others had formed various diocesan initiatives, while others still integrated into the ACJF — probably an important factor in the opening up of the ACJF. 

In this line, Father Abrassart continued to develop a young workers programme in his parish based on the sillonnist method. In Fernand Tonnet, he found an enthusiastic young partner, who became his protégé as a youth leader in the parish, helping to establish a ‘patronage’ (youth club) aimed at contacting the vast number of young workers of the Borinage mining region. According to Henri Tonnet, it was here that Fernand Tonnet learnt to conduct small enquiries, and to fill exercise books with ‘notes cursives sur d’âpres cas sociaux’ (H. Tonnet, 1957: 14) (‘written notes on bitter social cases’). In this way, he acquired ‘ce don, ce sens du vrai, du concret, du réellement vécu qu’il eut très accusé’ (‘the gift, the sense of the true, the concrete and of real life with which he was so endowed’). 

Once again, what we see here is the classical method developed by the Sillon of making use of a patronage to reach out to young workers and then using that framework to carry out social enquiries and eventually to develop leaders or militants. Applying this method, Abrassart and Tonnet worked also to form a branch of the Jeune Garde Catholique at Quiévrain. Whether this initiative came from Abrassart or Tonnet is not clear. In any event, as we have mentioned, Fernand’s brother, Henri, was already involved in the Laeken branch of the Jeune Garde (H. Tonnet, 1961: 10). 

3.3 Blessing the Flags of the Jeune Garde: 25 August 1912 

So involved did Fernand become in this work that it appears he chose to stay on in Quiévrain after his parents returned to Brussels in August 1911. Moreover, even after he himself returned to live in Brussels at the end of the year, Fernand maintained his links with Quiévrain, making a number of visits in the first half of 1912 to help in the organisation of the Jeune Garde. He would again return to Quiévrain on Sunday 25 August 1912 for the ceremony of the blessing of the flag, in effect the official foundation, of the Jeune Garde group at Quiévrain. Here, it is very significant to note the date chosen for this official launching of the group, two years to the day after Pius X’s encyclical against the Sillon. In the light of what we know of the orientation of Abrassart and of Fernand Tonnet, it seems very unlikely that such a date was chosen purely by chance. It is as if they wanted to graft their newly formed group onto the trunk of the Sillon; to reclaim its heritage, to protest the ruling of Pope Pius X. 

That day there would be celebrated a ‘manifestation d’amitié franco-belge’ (‘dynamic demonstration of French-Belgian friendship’) between the Jeunes Gardes of Laeken, in which Henri Tonnet was a key leader, the new Jeune Garde of Quiévrain and with ‘une vingtaine de sections de l’ACJF de la région de Valenciennes’ (‘twenty or so sections of the ACJF from the Valenciennes region’) who had made the trip across the border for the event (Note 27). During this event, the regional president of the ACJF, M. Widiez, gave a ‘vibrant’ speech in which he noted that ‘nos organisations de jeunesse ne diffèrent pas beaucoup des vôtres s’ils bannissent la politique de leur action’ (H. Tonnet, 1961: 10) (‘our youth organisations would be not very different from yours if they only banished politics from their action’) (Note 28). 

3.4 Tonnet meets Cardijn 

Now Cardijn had been posted to Laeken in April 1912, and it seems that he met Tonnet within weeks of his arrival (H. Tonnet 1957: 16). 

Cardijn’s priority for workers, which we have already mentioned, seems to correspond with or influence the thinking of Fernand Tonnet, who once he had returned to Laeken preferred to participate in the Society of St Vincent de Paul, rather than the Jeune Garde in which his brother had participated. Tonnet would also become involved in the patronage for boys of the parish — consistent with his Quiévrain experience. Here he would continue to carry out his social enquiries as well as assist needy families (H. Tonnet 1958: 32). This Vincentian social work, especially the work with the youth clubs, also corresponds completely with the approach pioneered by the Sillon in Paris from the early days of the Crypt at the Stanislas College. 

However, since there was another vicar at Laeken, Fr Stas, who was responsible for social work with men and boys, there was little immediate opportunity for Cardijn and Tonnet to form boys’ groups together. Nevertheless, Tonnet worked with Stas in the boys’ patronage (A. Tonnet 1945: 22) and seems to have made some attempt to form a trade union for boys on his own (H. Tonnet 1958: 32). He would also assist Cardijn in organising young women workers right up to his departure for the war in August 1914 (H. Tonnet 1958: 32). Although an apprentices group for boys was later founded in 1915, the real collaboration between Tonnet and Cardijn would not begin until after the war in 1919. 

3.5 Contacts with the former Sillonnists 

One wonders what contact, if any, Cardijn and Tonnet had with the former sillonnists at this time. As we have seen, the efforts of Sangnier, Henry du Roure and others now went into the newspaper, La Démocratie and the political group, La Jeune République. 

There is at least one publication in the Cardijn archives published by La Démocratie which seems to date from this period — a pamphlet by the former sillonnist, Jacques Rödel, on cooperatives. 

As mentioned previously, Edward Montier (1870-1954) was yet another sillonnist lawyer who had long directed the Patronage des Philippins at Rouen. Marc Sangnier had visited Rouen in 1898 as part of the campaign to promote study circles within patronages. Henceforth, Montier became close to the Sillon, and wrote a number of articles for the journal Le Sillon. He also became a prolific author of books dealing with the education of youth, of which there are 17 titles in Cardijn’s library, including Les Essaims Nouveaux (Walckiers 1981: 248). The significance of the writings of Montier is the wholistic conception of youth formation which they contain — physical, sentimental, religious, moral — which seems to have most impressed Cardijn and Tonnet in his writings. 

In February 1916, Tonnet wrote to Montier, commencing a correspondence which would become a lifelong friendship. In October 1917, he visited Montier at Rouen (A. Tonnet 1945: 77). After the war they would maintain their friendship, with Montier being invited by Cardijn and/or Tonnet to Brussels as a speaker in 1922, i.e. the year after the visit of Marc Sangnier. We see then that the first two international social apostles invited by Cardijn to Brussels are both from the Sillon. 


In June 1915, Cardijn would be nominated by Cardinal Mercier as director of social works in the Brussels arrondissement of the Malines archdiocese (Walckiers 1915: 270). Although we cannot go into the details here, it is interesting to note the orientation of these works. In this post, Cardijn would work under the authority of the Flemish Dominican Father Rutten who became responsible for social works for the whole archdiocese from January 1917 (Walckiers 1981: 291). 

Among his tasks, Cardijn was responsible for the Christian trade unions of Brussels, and for a whole range of associated services, cooperatives, etc. Finding corruption in the existing Christian trade union movement in Brussels, Cardijn had no hesitation in using his position to ensure its dissolution and to create a new Fédération bruxelloise des syndicats chrétiens (Walckiers 1981: 279). In the new organisation he would find a partner in Herman Vergels. He would also become close to Hendrik Heymans, president of Confédération des syndicats chrétiens (Walckiers 1981: 314). 

After the war, with these people, Cardijn would establish La Central Chrétienne du Travail as a headquarters for the social action he was directing (Walckiers 1981: 325). A daily newspaper, Le Démocrate, would also be established in 1919 under the responsibility of Father Rutten with the collaboration of Hendrik Heyman and his brother Georges Heyman (Walckiers 1981: 340). Apart from the name, which is already reminiscent of La Démocratie of the French sillonists before the war, we can note here that Henri Heyman and Vergels were both linked with the movements of Marc Sangnier — further indicators of the strong sillonnist influence that seems to have existed in Flanders (See Appendix II). 

Moreover, in 1919, the same group of people would also launch in Brussels a political party, the Christene Volkspartij – Le Parti populaire chrétien (Walckiers 1981: 362). This would be a mainly Flemish party and would win two seats in the elections of 1919, including Herman Vergels. 

Once again, therefore, we observe that Cardijn’s network in Brussels is closely linked with the sillonnist movement in France. 


(18) Victoire Cappe (1886-1927) was born into a Freemason family in which her father had forbidden religious instruction. She converted herself to Catholicism at age 15 around 1901, and with her family background which valued freedom and social responsibility, she rapidly became interested in the social teaching of the Church. 

(19) Here again it seems likely that Professors Brants and Defourny had an influence. 

(20) As early as 1899, Marc Sangnier had presented the basic method of the Sillon in the following terms: ‘Tout citoyen doit : 1° Connaître l’état de sa patrie; lorsque la situation est mauvaise, il doit 2° chercher les rémèdes; enfin, les rémèdes trouvés il doit 3° agir. (LS 1899: 306) (‘Every citizen must: 1° Know the state of the country; when the situation is bad, he must 2° seek solutions; and lastly, having found the solutions, he must 3° act.’) Moreover, the Sillon Study Circles had developed the method of reporting on and discussing ‘faits’ drawn from life by 1898 if not earlier, as these extracts from the the journals Le Bulletin de la Crypte et Le Sillon indicate: 

‘Nous voulons agir… Nous sommes ici pour nous préparer à la vie active. Quels moyens avons-nous de nous préparer? Il y en a deux : la pratique et la réfléxion secondée par l’étude… C’est en agissant déjà qu’on apprend à agir… (Bulletin de la Crypte, 10 janvier 1898, No. 1) 

(‘We want to act… We are here in order to prepare ourselves for the active life. What means do we have for preparing ourselves? There are two: practice and reflection backed up by study… It is by acting now that we learn to act.’) 

‘Dès lors, on ne discute pas sur des sujets abstraits et vagues, car ces jeunes gens qui viennent d’être mis en face des réalités de la vie, viennent dire à leurs camarades ce qu’ils ont vu, ce qui les a frappés; ils leur racontent ce qu’ils font eux-mêmes soit dans les patronages, soit dans les cercles d’ouvriers’ (Bulletin de la Crypte, 1898, No. 11: 184). 

(‘Hence, we do not discuss abstract or vague subjects, because these young people have just come into contact with the realities of life, have just told their friends what they have seen, what has struck them; they have told them what they have just done themselves at the youth club or in the workers circle.’) 

‘Pour notre travail en commun, écrivions-nous à nos amis “il faut que nous apportions des ‘faits caractéristiques’, c’est-à-dire non pas les détails instructifs et curieux que recherchent le spécialiste et le savant, mais des faits précis d’un caractère général, susceptibles de montrer les grands traits d’une question, sa nature propre et sa connexité avec les autres problèmes moraux et sociaux, en un mot d’éveiller une idée féconde à notre point de vue’ (Le Sillon 1898: 708). 

(‘For our collective work, let us write to our friends that “they must bring with them ‘characteristic facts’, that is to say we are not looking for the instructive and curious details which interest the specialist or the scientist, but we want precise facts of a general nature, susceptible of illustrating the main lines of a question, its very nature and its connection with other moral and social problems, in other words capable of opening up an idea that is fruitful from our point of view.’) 

The Sillon also appears to have organised enquiries and actions on specific themes, e.g. campaigning against abuse of recruits in the army, worker safety, etc. 

(21) Eugène Beaupin published a number of books, including L’Éducation social et les Cercles d’Études (Beaupin 1911), in which Chapter 5, L’Effort Personnel is subdivided as follows: 

I. Le travail personnel – Tout membre d’un Cercle d’études doir lire, écrire, réfléchir personnellement; 

II. Une discipline de vie – L’emploi du temps. – Les lectures, comment d’en tirer profit. 

III. Une méthode de formation personnelle – L’éducation du jugement. – L’observation de la vie. – La léçon des voyages. 

IV. Pour juger sa vie 

Conclusion: Pour juger son action. 

(‘I. Personnel work – Every member of a Study Circle must read, write and reflect personally; 

II. Discipline in life – Use of time. – Reading and how to draw profit from it. 

III. A method of personal formation. – The education of the judgment. – The observation of life. – The lesson of travel. 

IV. In order to judge his own life. 

Conclusion: To judge his own action.’) 

Here again we see how close we are to the formulation of the see-judge-act trilogy without actually getting there. 

(22) The attitude of the Sillon women’s groups is exemplified by Marguérite Gény-Renard of Nancy, who stated: 

‘Mon Sillon à moi, vois-tu, ce serais comme idéal l’accomplissement plus généreux de mon devoir de femme, l’acceptation plus résignée de la volonté de Dieu, plus d’amenité dans mes relations. Mais toutes ces discussions, non, vois-tu, cela ne me dit rien. Dans la mesure où je le puis, aider des autres à faire leur devoir, à réaliser en eux ce que je veux faire pour moi-même, voilà ce que je voudrais comme apostolat.’ (Renard 1934: 60) 

(‘My own Sillon, you see, would ideally be the most generous accomplishment of my duty as a woman, the most resigned acceptance of God’s will, more openness in my relationships. But all these discussions, no, you see, they say nothing to me. What I would like to do for an apostolate, as far as I am able, would be to help others to do their duty, to achieve for themselves what I would like to do for myself.’) 

Married to the sillonnist leader, Georges Renard, Marguerite Renard also seems to have had an influence in Belgium (Renard 1934). 

(23) As mentioned above, this is not to say that the sillonnists themselves invented all these methods. However, I think that it is extremely probable that the explosion in study circles in France and beyond from 1898 is due in large part to the campaign launched by the Sillon. As a result of these experiences there gradually developed the methods which Cappe and Cardijn adopted and developed in their own turn. 

(24) Born at Molenbeek, a suburb of Brussels, on 18 July 1894, Fernand Tonnet died in February 1945. 

(25) It should be noted that the Jeune Garde Catholique of Belgium, founded at Mons in 1886, predated the Jeune Garde of the Sillon, founded at the end of 1901, a few months after Marc Sangnier’s visit of March 1901. It seems likely that Sangnier took his inspiration from the Belgian Jeune Garde, although he certainly pushed the concept much further. It is interesting to note that the specific goal of the Belgian Jeune Garde was to ‘se rendre utiles au parti catholique’ (‘make themselves useful to the Catholic Party’), although they also insisted that ‘ils ne forment pas davantage la section de jeunesse d’un parti politique’ (‘they do not form the youth section of a political party’) (Revue de l’Action Populaire, 1910: 285). Although the Belgian Jeune Garde had conservative origins, and was even associated with Count Charles Woeste, by 1912 it had adopted the line of the ‘democratic’ Jeune Droite (Young Right) grouping of the Catholic Party, the group with which Cardijn would come into conflict at the end of the 1914-18 war (Cf. Walckiers 1981) 

(26) Georges Abrassart (1883-1937) was ordained in 1905, and came to Quiévrain in 1907. His father had been active in the Fédération Boraine Catholique of ‘democratic’ orientation (H. Tonnet 1964: 8). 

(27) Here we need to remember that Valenciennes, the biggest city of the region, was also the fief of the former sillonnist priest, l’abbé Thellier de Poncheville, whose Catholic youth group had been waiting (‘en attente’) for recognition by the Sillon as early as 1903 (Caron, 1967: 217). 

(28) This is undoubtedly a reference to Pope Pius X’s Lettre à Jean Lerolle in 1907, in which the pope requested the ACJF to stay out of politics. This comment indicates on one hand the reticence of the French ACJF in regards to politics, but also shows that the Belgian Jeune Garde was still seen as political, despite its officially non-political orientation. In Belgium, then, it would seem that the ‘political’ orientation of the Sillon was not necessarily a cause for condemnation – at least for the Jeunes Gardes!