Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

En Masse: French Canadian Students, Catholicism, and Mass Media

Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

En Masse: French Canadian Students, Catholicism, and Mass Media

Article excerpt

Following papal directives, Catholic hierarchs in the twentieth century encouraged laity, particularly Catholic Action groups, to propagate Catholic press as a way of cultivating Catholic culture and principles. (2) Pope Pius XI (1922-1939) commented to Archbishop Andrea Cassulo, the Apostolic Delegate to Canada, that "the newspaper is the weapon of modern times, and the Church must be able to count on it as its right arm" (qtd. in Belanger 1928, 8). Despite the use of this military imagery, the newspaper was, in many ways, less of a weapon and more of an essential tool for the formation of community. Numerous scholars have underscored the centrality of the newspaper in the construction of modern national communities. (3) Benedict Anderson (2006, 35) has argued that the newspaper played a central role in forming imagined national communities by, among other things, providing a growing reading public with a shared practice of reading common texts. These common texts were a product of journalism, which, Anthony Smith (1978, 168) contends, developed into "the art of structuring reality rather than recording it." In a similar fashion, it can be argued that Catholics--hierarchs, clergy, and laity alike--turned to the press as a tool by which Catholic identity could be shaped and community modelled and formed.

Newspapers were central to Catholic lay movements in the twentieth century, often being the nucleus around which movements were organized. Thus when, in the mid-1930s, French Canadian clergy sought to transplant the Belgian-born youth organization Jeunesse Etudiante Catholique (J.E.C.) onto Canadian soil, (4) their first step was to establish a newspaper, which is the focus of this study. The publication, initially entitled JEC, changed its name to Vie Etudiante (VE) in 1946 (Figure 1). Both the newspaper and the movement that it fostered were modelled on the successful European Jeunesse ouvriere chretienne (J.O.C.). Perusing J.O.C.'s famous handbook, Manuel de la J.O.C. (1930, 272), one finds the organization's newspaper described as a good friend who visits the family home each week bearing good news, distracting its readers from the sadness and ugliness of the world, and drawing workers to intellectual and spiritual joys. This use of an anthropomorphic image underscores the newspaper as a means of forming bonds between its readers with the purpose of forging a community.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

A mid-twentieth-century experiment in Catholic mass media, JEC/VE became the student newspaper among French-speaking Canadian students in the 1950s and 1960s, evidenced by its robust circulation, which peaked at 50,000 in 1963 (VE 1963). It stood out from similar publications because of the contributors it published, such as regulars on the nascent Radio-Canada and Montreal's Le Devoir newspaper; and by the advertisers it attracted, which included Coca-Cola and Vaseline Hair products. These links to major cultural institutions of the day may be surprising for a Catholic student newspaper that was officially under the auspices of the Quebec episcopate and one that started rather modestly as a four-page publication in 1935. In contrast to its unassuming beginnings, the paper came to a dramatic and well-publicized end. In 1964, the editorial team was accused by a priest that it had strayed from its Catholic mission by publishing the work of a committed Marxist. The conflict, which ended with the resignation of the editorial team, played out in the Quebec press, radio, and television. Clearly, the paper's history and content make JEC/VE a particularly intriguing and instructive newspaper to study as a mass medium in which French Canadian youth and Catholic clergy and hierarchy negotiated Catholicism's shifting place in the decades leading up to the Quiet Revolution in Quebec.

The study that follows argues that JEC/VE was an important tool in the formation of community among French Canadian Catholic students by structuring reality for its readers. …

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