Monday, 5 December 2011

Adolph Kolping and the Gesellenvereine: A model for Social Teaching and the Catholic working classes

One of the worst things about the decline of Catholic Europe is the fact that this decline goes hand in hand with growing influence American Catholicism, especially through social media. Click on any generic Catholic forum and it will be dominated by angry right-wing conservatives spouting there own garish brand of distinctly American Catholicism. For example, look at the especially crass Michael Voris or Father John Zuhlsdorf. With this type of U.S. Catholicism comes their Calvinist baggage and a faith which is highly confrontational, dualistic and individualistic with little or no interest in Social Justice, Peacemaking or Workers rights. Such social concerns are dismissed by our American cousins as Marxism. Sure, you’ll find that they have plenty to say on abortion, euthanasia, Gay Marriage etc…but don’t ever expect them to ever question their own heretical patriotism, flag worship, nationalism and loyalty to the worst kind of free market exploitation.

On none of these forums will you ever read any criticisms of the worst excesses of de-humanizing capitalist materialism and consumerism. Instead, the Church’s entire Social teaching is basically ignored or labelled in the same box with the disobedient modernist, ultra-liberal wing of the Church (Most of whom are equally middle class). The problem we have here is that there is no real tradition of Christian Democracy or even Christian (Social) Democracy in the U.S.
Perhaps such Catholics would do well to look back to the politics of the various Catholic Parties, early Christian Democratic Parties and social movements of German Rhineland, Flanders and the Netherlands. All these movements were 100% loyal to the Magisterium but yet also concerned with the welfare of the working classes with no conflict between the two. The Christian Democracy movement forged the gap between the Catholic Church and the modern nation state. It did so by using Catholic social teaching, twinning solidarity – with its emphasis on the “social market” and the proper role of the state in economic life – and subsidiarity, with its support of the family and Trade Unions. This pro-family position could be seen in the parties actual economic policies such as fair wages. Compare this with our American “pro-family” cousins.

One such movement is the Kolping Society with its origins firmly rooted in the working classes of Cologne… The Gesellenvereine (usual translation Journeymen's Unions) were German Roman Catholic societies set up in the nineteenth century. They were originated by Adolph Kopling, called the “Journeymen's Father” (Gesellenvater). They had for aims the religious, moral, and professional improvement of young men 1849 Kolping was appointed assistant-priest at Cologne Cathedral. With friends, ecclesiastics and laymen, he founded a Gesellenverein, and began free instruction through it. The Cologne society soon acquired its own home, and opened there a refuge, or hospice, for young travelling journeymen.
Kolping was energetic and eloquent both as speaker and writer. He visited frequently the great industrial centres of Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Hungary. In a short time societies of young Catholic journeymen were formed in many Rhenish towns, in Westphalia, and finally throughout the German-speaking world.
When Kolping died (4 December 1865), the Gesellenverein numbered about 400 branch unions. In 1901 they had reached the number of 1086, with a membership of 80,000 journeymen and 120,000 master-workmen. They existed in many other European countries, also. Besides providing for Catholic doctrine, the societies conducted classes (book-keeping, arithmetic, drawing, literary composition, music, natural sciences, etc.) In the larger cities there were free classes in crafts. Instruction was designed especially for those workmen who aimed at establishing a business of their own. The principal publication was the Kolpingsblatt.

The society still exists today, from the website…

The International Kolping Society is a catholic social organization founded by Adolph Kolping. The members create a family-like and life accompanying community. The International Kolping Society promotes through education and activities the development of its members in many fields of the daily life. It consists of local Kolping families which form diocesan or regional organizations and National Kolping Societies.

Goals and tasks

According to its programme the Kolping Society wants to:
enable its members to prove themselves as Christians in the word
in their profession, marriage and family, in the Church, society and state.
To offer help to its members and to the society as a whole.
To promote the common good in the Christian spirit through the active participation of its members, individually or as a group, and to take part in the continuing improvement and humanization of the society.

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