The 1937 convention of the Catholic Students’ Mission Crusade (CSMC) welcomed Dorothy Day as a featured presenter, speaking on “Communism as a Missionary Problem.” Knowing Dorothy’s own background and the positions taken by the Catholic Worker during the early years of its existence, one must wonder what challenges she placed before the assembled CSMC members. It is an intriguing question, one of many that author David Endres leaves for the reader to ponder in this interesting book.
The inspiration of a Divine Word seminarian, Clifford J. King, CSMC began during the summer of 1918 at a conference at the Divine Word Seminary in Techny, Illinois. Over its more than five decades it grew from an organization of seminarians and male college students to one embracing as many as a million young people in seminaries, colleges, high schools and elementary schools throughout the United States. To read this history is to follow the story of the American Catholic Church in the twentieth century, a story of development and change, naivete and maturity, parochialism and ecumenical vision. The dissolution of the CSMC in 1971 coincided with the profoundly critical questioning in the country and the Church during the 1960s and era of Vatican II. But one thing remained constant throughout the half century of CSMC's existence: the theme of mission, both foreign and domestic.
David Endres places his examination of the CSMC within the broader history of Catholic and Protestant mission history, with a focus on the 19th and early 20th centuries in the United States. In six chapters he explores the dynamics of mission consciousness as it developed and matured as an “American Crusade” among young U.S. Catholics. He frames this history within four generations in the life of the CSMC: the founding generation in the wake of World War I; the Crusade/Catholic Action generation of 1920-1940; the World War II/Cold War generation that sought to protect American and Catholic values during 1940-1960; and the final generation that responded to the social/ecclesial/theological developments of 1960-1971. It is an exciting and dynamic story that reflects the enthusiasm of young Catholics adapting creatively to the issues of their times. Endres argues that these four generations “show the dynamism of the CSMC and its ability to respond to change, challenging the notion that pre-conciliar American Catholicism was necessarily monolithic and parochial.”
This dynamism is particularly evident in the changing imagery adopted by the CSMC over its four generations. The founding generation made use of the military imagery prevalent during WWI that emphasized the “manliness, bravery and adventure” of the missionary vocation, and the missioner as “a chivalrous modern crusader, converting the pagan world with the cross of Christ.” This missionary-crusader image carried over into the second generation as it embraced neo-medievalsim and a revival of scholasticism, renewing an imagined medieval golden age of Catholicism that was reflected in the popular mission pageants developed by Fr. Daniel Lord, SJ––complete with knights in armor. By the 1930s, however, this generation moved away from an identity as a Catholic counter-society toward a focus on Catholic Action concerned about domestic social issues, particularly racial justice–– “Catholic Action through Mission Action.”
This shift of identity carried over into the third generation, the “golden age” of the CSMC––”a seedbed for religious vocations, promoter of the lay apostolate, and fierce foe of communism.” The CSMC flag of anti-communism reflected the stance of the Catholic Church in general with its concern for the suffering of the worldwide church but with special concern for those in China and behind the Iron Curtain. A new image came to dominate CSMC language during the 1960s: “the missionary as servant leader on the forefront of humanitarian and ecumenical concerns.” This final generation of the movement embraced the challenges and confusions brought on by ecclesial and social changes that gave rise to a new theology of mission. While the CSMC tried to reinvent itself again during this time of transition, it was unable to resolve the many obstacles it faced. At the final convention held at the University of Notre Dame in 1970, delegates voted to dissolve the movement at the end of the 1970-71 academic year.
Beginning his book, David Endres poses the question: “Whatever happened to the Crusade?”––a question earlier posed by the mission historian Angelyn Dries. To answer the question, he gives us a comprehensive overview of the movement’s history, its program of “prayer, study, and sacrifice” for the missions, and its place within the wider picture of the American Catholic story. His concluding chapter, “The Final Generation,” gives the reader some insights into the demise of the CSMC––as well as other national movements such as the Newman movement and the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions in the late 1960s and early 1970s. (Another student movement of the 1960s, the Conference on InterAmerican Student Projects / CIASP, dissolved around the same time in light of a 1968 talk by Ivan Illich entitled “To Hell With Good Intentions.”) Endres concludes that forty years later the Crusade is still alive for many former CSMC members who in one way or another continue a commitment to mission that was fostered by their CSMC experience. Whatever happened to the Crusade? As a valuable contribution to the field of American Catholic mission history, this book offers a detailed answer, but it is one that leads to a further question: How has mission consciousness been fostered among the generations that have followed the demise of the CSMC? Perhaps this will be a future project.