“To make daily life vast and beautiful” : women leaders and the theological method of the Jocist movements


Joseph Cardijn’s comment that his theological method of ‘see-judge-act’ aimed ‘to make daily life vast and beautiful’ underlines his status as a foundational figure in liberation theology. It also names the significance of the quotidian for the Jeunesse Ouvrière Chrétienne (JOC), the influential social movement for faith formation that Cardijn founded with lay collaborators from 1912.

This project asks how the emphasis on the mundane as a key arena of faith and a locus for transformation contributed to the growth of the Jocist movements internationally, and specifically whether and how it enabled significant contributions by women.

Bridging religious studies, history and theology, across three continents, the project will recover women leaders in the international Jocist movement from historiographical neglect through an online workshop, an AAR panel, a special issue of the Journal of Religious History, and launching an online historical dictionary of women leaders within the Joseph Cardijn Digital Library.

Project Narrative

Founded between 1912 and 1925 in Belgium, the Young Christian Workers (YCW) or Jeunesse Ouvrière Chrétienne (JOC) spread quickly through Catholic networks around the globe: by 1966 it included 4 million young people in 100 countries with a dozen allied movements, both adult and youth. Each formed leaders committed to transforming their particular, daily contexts through shared theological reflection. Their method, articulated by the founder Fr (later Cardinal) Joseph Cardijn as “see-judge-act”, impacted 10 of the 12 major documents of the Second Vatican Council and resourced liberation theologies globally.

Women held key leadership roles as the movement developed and spread. The first proponents of Cardijn’s theological method were young needleworkers (Victoire Cappe, Alix Pauwels Fischer); Marguerite Fiévéz, international fulltime worker (1934-1946), collaborated on Cardijn’s key text Laïcs en premières lignes. Through the twentieth century, Jocism prompted countless women to social and political activism beyond the stereotypes endorsed by their church and wider society.

The international team brings expertise across Jocist origins in Francophone Europe and post war UK, where Cardijn studied worker movements, through Australia, dubbed “YCW capital of the world” in 1958, to Jocist-inspired base ecclesial communities of Latin America.

Drawing on archival sources and oral histories we ask:

o Whether and how Jocist emphasis on quotidian and apparently mundane experience shapes religious engagement for social change among Jocist women?
o What enables and what constrains contributions to leadership by women in Jocist movements in diverse global contexts?
o Whether and how Jocist theological method broadens and subverts traditional gender assumptions?

Project Team

Professor Ana Maria Bidegain, Florida International University, USA

Prof. Dr. Dries Bosschaert, KU Leuven, Belgium

Ms Lorena Garcia Mourelle, University of the Republic of Uruguay, Uruguay 

Dr Stefan Gigacz, University of Divinity, Australia 

Dr Alana Harris, Kings College London, United Kingdom 

Dr Patricia Jones, University of Durham, United Kingdom 

Mr Sam Kuijken, KADOC, Leuven, Belgium

Dr Katharine Massam, University of Divinity, Australia 

Dr Charles Mercier, University of Bordeaux, France


Belgian JOCF 1920s