RepositoryJesuits in Britain Archives
TitleCatholic Social Guild
LevelSub fonds
DescriptionContains correspondence, publications, reports and minutes of executive meeting.
Admin_HistoryThe Catholic Social Guild was founded in 1909 in Manchester by several priests and laypeople.

Its primary objectives were to facilitate contacts between students and workers, to apply Catholic teaching in actual social conditions, and to cultivate public interest in social questions. Fr Charles Plater SJ, a young Jesuit priest, was the visionary among the group, Mgr Henry Parkinson, rector of Oscott, its chairman, G.C. King, its secretary, Leslie Toke, a Fabian socialist, its treasurer, and Fr J. Lomax and Mrs Virginia Crawford, the respective organising secretaries of its northern and southern committees. Other founding members included James Britten, founder of the Catholic Truth Society in 1884, George Eliot Anstruther, president of the Catholic Young Men's Society, Margaret Fletcher, founder of the Catholic Women's League, and Mrs Philip Gibbs.

At first the Guild sought to promote its objectives through publishing, circulating pamphlets and leaflets, lending books for study, establishing branches, training tutors, forming study groups, and enlisting influential support. With the encouragement of the bishops, notably Bishop Casartelli of Salford, and with the co-operation of established Catholic lay organisations, such as the Society of St Vincent De Paul, the Catholic Young Men's Society, the Ladies of Charity, the Catholic Federations, the Catholic Women's League, the Catholic Truth Society, as well as The British Institute of Social Service, the Guild soon spread throughout the country. Immediate publicity was obtained through an article by Fr Plater in the November 1909 edition of The Month on 'A Catholic Society of Social Study' and a CTS 29 - pamphlet on Catholics and Social Study.

Once established, the Guild soon embarked on several substantial publications. Its first Catholic Social Year Book appeared in 1910, and there followed a series of study manuals, text books, CTS pamphlets on contemporary social problems (23 were issued before 1914), and group study course notes, such as Mgr Parkinson's Primer of Social Science (1913). Spiritual retreats, 'the basis for social work', were also arranged for members. Programmes for Guild action were proposed in such fields as suffrage and representation, old age pensions, worker's compensation, reform of the Poor Law, family health, better housing, a living wage, employment prospects, and training for social work. Among early text books were Ideals of Charity (1908) and The Church and The Worker ( 1916) by Mrs Crawford, First Notions of Social Science (1913) by Mrs Philip Gibbs, The Gospel and the Citizen (1917) by Fr Martindale SJ, and The Christian Family (1921) by Margaret Fletcher. The year books were transformed in 1916 from collections of essays into volumes devoted to single subjects: National Reconstruction (1916), Catholics in England: Their Needs and Opportunities (1917), A Christian Crusade (1918), A Handbook for Social Study (1923), A Code of Social Principles (1929), and Catholic Social Action 1891-1931 (1933), while the 1931 papal encyclical Quadragesimo Anno was given maximum coverage.

The Guild also published a Quarterly Bulletin and in 1921 launched a monthly periodical The Christian Democrat, and from 1935 to 1959 published The Catholic Worker. Such were some of the early endeavours of The Guild which between the Wars was one of the most active Catholic lay societies engaging thousands of Catholic students, workers and ordinary parishioners learning in formal college education, diocesan and local study groups, and in parish discussions about Catholic social teaching and how it could be applied in actual living and working conditions. But Fr Plater SJ, as early as 1909, had another vision, that of a Catholic college where working men and women could study the Church's teaching at an academic level so that they could return home and provide leadership in their workplaces and in local movements for social reform. The Guild moved its offices from London to Oxford in 1919, Fr Plater died in 1921, and his memorial was the foundation of The Catholic Workers College, which began in October 1921 with Fr Leo O'Hea SJ as principal and three students. From 1922 it occupied houses in Walton Well Road, 30 Oxford, but in 1953 moved to Boars Hill and was renamed Plater Hall. Finally, in 1975 it transferred to its present well designed buildings and campus at Headington and flourishes as Plater College.

The annual Summer Schools were popular occasions for reunions, lectures by leading Catholics, study sessions, and valuable meetings of Guild members throughout the country. Fr O'Hea was also active in fostering international contacts with leaders of Catholic social action in Europe, supporting League of Nations and other initiatives for peace, and combating Fascism and Communism.

The purpose of the Guild came to be questioned and after much heart searching the hierarchy decided in 1959 to reconstitute it on diocesan lines. The Guild has since ceased to exist. However, many perennial social problems persist and new ones have emerged and in the absence of a national organisation like the Guild these are being countered by determined Church and inter Church initiatives.

The history of the Guild is well recorded in Catholic Social Action in Britain 1909-1959: A History of the Catholic Social Guild, by J.M.Cleary, published by the Guild in 1961.
Related MaterialABSI/DC/PC
FormatPrinted document
AccessConditionsThe papers are available subject to the usual conditions of access to archive material in the Jesuits in Britain Archives.

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