Magazine article Compass: A Jesuit Journal

Mondragon Pastor Made Ideals Real

Magazine article Compass: A Jesuit Journal

Mondragon Pastor Made Ideals Real

Article excerpt

When the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, a twenty-one-year-old theology student named Jose Maria Arrizmendi-Arrieta interrupted his studies to join the Basque forces of the Spanish Republic. Three years later, the Republic was on the verge of defeat at the hands of Francisco Franco's Fascists, who had taken Jose Maria prisoner and listed him for execution. But by a lucky--or providential--error, his name was passed over and he survived. After his release he resumed studies and just before Christmas of 1940 he was ordained a priest.

Proud of his ancient race, Don Jose Maria shared fully in the Basque traits of tenacity, hard work, self-reliance and community loyalty. However, when the new priest took up his duties as pastor of Mondragon soon after ordination, the optimism Basques had felt before the war had turned to dust. Franco's German allies had rained destruction on the sacred Basque city of Guernica. A number of leading priests had been executed. More than 2,000 teachers and 118 university professors were in exile. The Vatican gave Franco the right to propose and veto candidates for appointment as bishops. The Basque language was suppressed, although it survived in small mountain villages. Poverty, unemployment and despair were rampant.

Don Jose Maria spent the first fifteen years of his priestly life in conventional pastoral work, but with a heavy emphasis on formation of youth. Distressed by continuing unemployment and the erosion of community through outmigration of the young, he set up a technical trade school and organized student study groups to discuss world problems. For Don Jose Maria, ideas had to be tested by action in the real world. The consuming passion of his life became understanding the real world to change it for the better.

His pragmatic philosophy was influenced by his involvement with the Young Christian Worker movement, with its motto of "See, judge and act." While he valued the principles of the church's social teaching, he found it too general and abstract to be useful in practice. He also became critical of the personalist thinker Emmanuel Mounier who, without testing the idea in the real world, said that a humanistic cooperative business complex could succeed only in a non-capitalist society. At Mondragon, he was instrumental in building an extraordinary alternative economic and social order that proved Mounier wrong. …

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