Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Léon Harmel: Entrepreneur as Catholic Social Reformer

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Léon Harmel: Entrepreneur as Catholic Social Reformer

Article excerpt

Léon Harmel: Entrepreneur as Catholic Social Reformer. By Joan L. Coffey. [Catholic Social Tradition Séries, Volume 1.] (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press. 2003. Pp. x, 340. $48.00.)

The figure of Léon Harmel (1829-1915), much noted as it is, is here seen not only as a model of paternalism, creating and sustaining a " Christian factory" in his wool-processing business, or as the champion of workers' rights and social justice, under the impact ofJRerum Novarum. These attributes are confirmed, but his broader religious and political undertakings come into their own as well. The biography becomes a veritable "life and times" and as such can be recommended not only to the specialist but to a much wider range of interested students and readers.

The late author (see ante, LXXXIX [October, 2003], 832) delves into previously researched areas, but also enriches them with the fruits of her archival labors in France and the Vatican. This is particularly the case for the Vatican connection with another Leo, Pope Leo XIII. Léon Harmel organized working men's pilgrimages to "the prisoner of the Vatican" in 1885,1887, and 1889, and in the year of Herum Novarum, 1891. They were initially public-relations successes, favorable both to the image of workers and of the pope. As the 1891 pilgrimage was pouring into Rome, however, a controversy erupted that resulted in its cancellation. A seminarian traveling along with the workers' pilgrimage wrote" Vive le pape!" in the guest register of the Pantheon, an incident that soon occupied front pages and diplomats of Italy and France.

By a similarly careful narration of contextual developments of the 1890's, Coffey delineates with great clarity the shift in Harmel's social Catholicism from employers to workers, from a Christian corporatism to a Christian democracy. …

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