Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Vocationalism and Social Catholicism in Twentieth-Century Ireland: The Search for a Christian Social Order

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Vocationalism and Social Catholicism in Twentieth-Century Ireland: The Search for a Christian Social Order

Article excerpt

Vocationalism and Social Catholicism in Twentieth-Century Ireland: The Search for a Christian Social Order By Don O'Leary. (Dublin: Irish Academic Press. Distributed in the U.S.A. by ISBS, Portland, Oregon. 2000. Pp. xiv, 274. $52.50.)

This ably researched and important work contains nine chapters, of which four are introductory-dealing with the background of social Catholicism and the vocationalist ideal in its European origins and in its manifestations in Ireland before and after the emergence of the Irish state; three are central-focusing on The Commission on Vocational Organisation, 1939-1944, and its Report, and the remainder on the decline of the vocational movement and on possibilities of its revival. There are three Appendices: The members of the commission; the Report of the Commission; and constituent associations of the Catholic Societies' Vocational Organisation Conference.

Social Catholicism in Ireland before the War of Independence seems to have had relatively few manifestations at first sight. On closer inspection, however, it was involved in the land struggle and in the growth of the Irish Agricultural CoOperative Movement, and this struggle and development had been largely completed before the establishment of an Irish state, which meant that the rural population-and Ireland was largely a rural country-had already achieved a social revolution and was not likely to be overly concerned about a further social upheaval, other than what would come with the gaining of Home Rule. Despite such background factors, the vocationalist ideal was sufficiently present, since Rerum Novarum, to find expression in the first Irish constitution and to find more direct reference, after Quadragesimo Anno, in de Valera's constitution. The interest, indeed, was sufficiently strong among vocal members of the public that de Valera felt it appropriate to establish the Commission on Vocational Organisation in 1939 even though this raised possibilities of a complete change in forms of government in the country. He himself, as the author points out, was not committed to the vocational ideal, nor were the Irish bishops, though all, out of deference to a very strong pope, paid homage to the ideals of Quadragesimo Anno. In practice the Irish hierarchy, under the indirect guidance of John Charles McQuade, the archbishop of Dublin and close friend of Mr. de Valera, were more concerned with moral and devotional Catholicism and immediate work for the poor than with the major upheaval envisaged in a vocational system in a state only recently beginning to settle after a bitter civil war

Dr. O'Leary's work provides a detailed examination of the Commission on Vocational Organisation, which sat from 1939 to 1944 and produced a report of 539 pages with an analytical table of contents running to over forty pages. The Commission was composed of representatives of the churches and universities, of labor, the employers, of agriculture, and miscellaneous areas; in all, an unwieldy membership of twenty-five persons. Nevertheless, despite the size of the Commission and the problems created by travel, countless interviews, and the collection of material in a world at war and while Ireland experienced the restrictions of a national emergency, and despite the resistance emanating from a civil service feeling threatened by the emergence of a new system, the Commission worked remarkably well under the guidance of two very able men, the chairman, Bishop Michael Browne, and the secretary, Father E. J. Coyne, SJ., professor of theology and president of the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society. The Commission's report remains an impressive document.

The Commission "endeavoured to examine the entire organisation of Irish social and economic life and attempted to present a master plan for a new structure of governance for Irish society." Its report was divided into four sections, which in their very headings convey something of the depth and extent of the Commission's work. …

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