At Nothing More Beautiful, Archbishop Gerard Pettipas spoke of many ways the Church can and has evangelized in the workplace.


At Nothing More Beautiful, Archbishop Gerard Pettipas spoke of many ways the Church can and has evangelized in the workplace.

February 18, 2013
(Following is the text of the talk by Archbishop Gerard Pettipas of Grouard-McLennan at the Feb. 7 session of Nothing More Beautiful.)

Benedict of Nursia (480-547 AD), otherwise known simply as St. Benedict, was born into and lived through different times than our own. Benedict was part of a very popular movement in the early Church that might well be termed, "the pursuit of holiness" movement.

While Christ in his ministry warned his followers that they will know neither the day nor the hour of his Second Coming, many Christians wanted to make sure they were prepared and standing ready when that day came. They wanted to be holy.

The path to holiness was walked by attaining perfection, as they understood "human perfection" - to have denied the distractions and comforts of this world, so as to be worthy of the next world. This pursuit took them to the deserted places, where they felt their whole being could be held in focus.

Desert fathers and mothers, noted for their wisdom and holiness, were sought after for their teachings and advice. Schools of holiness formed around such persons. St. Benedict was not only one of these; he was the one that stands out above most others.

To assist his followers in the ways of holiness, St. Benedict gave them a precious guide: a rule of life. The Rule of St. Benedict was not the first or the only such rule, but it was unique in its balance. While avoiding the extremes that can often characterize religious zeal, St. Benedict's rule was built on two pillars: prayer and work. Ora et labora.

Imagine these on a scale, a balance, each offsetting the other, each providing the other with the weight of the needed counter-weight. Prayer alone can be pietism. Work alone can become servile drudgery. The balanced life is worth living. St. Benedict's formula for holiness - prayer and work.

This evening, we are reflecting on evangelizing the workplace. In my contribution, I want to say a few things about work as human activity; then a brief review of the Church's mandate to evangelize, followed by some concrete examples of evangelization in the workplace. Finally we'll look at what inspiration comes from the documents of Vatican II on this topic.


Work makes up a great deal not only of any person's time, but also his identity. Consider that in modern societies, the 40-hour work week has become the norm- a norm, I might add, that is considered gracious and liberating. In North America prior to the present age, as well as in underdeveloped countries even today, the number of work hours per week can be considerably greater.

A Benedictine monk in England picks apples. St. Benedict of Nursia developed a monastic rule based on a balance between prayer and work.


A Benedictine monk in England picks apples. St. Benedict of Nursia developed a monastic rule based on a balance between prayer and work.

While admitting of exceptions, our 24-hour day can be divided roughly into three equal parts: eight hours of sleep and rest, eight hours of work and eight hours for all other pursuits. At 40 hours spread over seven days, labour makes up 23.8 per cent of your total hours, almost one quarter of all your time. Work is a major commitment.

As well, our personal identity is usually derived from our labour. Consider the number of family names that are reflective of the occupation of an ancestor - Baker, Smith, Cooper, Abbot, Barber, Shepherd, Brewer, Cook. I could go on, but I'm sure you get what I mean.

When most of us are asked "Who are you?" one's first response may be to provide our occupation. This may be more true of men than of women. But as more women work outside the home, it is becoming true of them as well. We derive much of our identity from the work that we do.

Our work also situates us in many of the relationships that make up our life. It does this on at least two levels.

The one level is those relationships that we enjoy with the public who call on the goods or services that we provide. In a more intimate way, our career places us in a community of co-workers who work alongside of us. This will even include those who are also our competitors in the same trade or service.

Because of the place of work in our life, the Industrial Revolution stands out as one of the single most determinant events to shape not only the work environment, but also many others facets of modern life.

Lasting from about 1760 to approximately 1820-1840, the Industrial Revolution had as profound an effect on the lives of ordinary working people as the French Revolution did on European politics and society. It drew workers away from the small village shop into the city factory, where automation transformed the production of all goods - from textiles to steel to glassware to processed food and drink.

The paradigm in much of modern industry is the assembly line, and the easiest recognized image is that of the automobile plant. For many people in western societies at least, these become the dimensions of our work environment. Work is still a major force and component in people's lives.

A faulty bottom line is the bane of any business. At the same time, unemployment or underemployment is the cause of great personal fear and anxiety, as well as the prime source of family violence and social ills.


Why do we work? What meaning does it have for us? Is it simply a matter of "fundraising" - selling our time and our skills like any other commodity, so that we can then turn our attention to the things that we really want out of life? Or does our work have an intrinsic value, some deep meaning that informs us of what it means to be human?

Years ago, I had the good fortune to know a couple of priests, a Passionist and a Redemptorist, who worked with inner-city youth in Detroit. In dealing with young people, largely from poor neighbourhoods with bleak futures, these priests and others on their team called Life Search challenged their target audience to consider carefully the direction of their lives.

A worker-priest (centre) has a beer break with his fellow workers on a late night shift at an Austrian steel plant in 1971.


A worker-priest (centre) has a beer break with his fellow workers on a late night shift at an Austrian steel plant in 1971.

"What longing, what desire burns inside you?" they would ask. "What inspires you to the point that you would give your life to a career, whatever that may be? What has value for you? Can you get paid for doing this?

"Or is your job simply a sideline that allows to do what you truly want for yourself and for those you love? Is your job simply fundraising, or does it engage you in what you value in life?"


Work is a deeply human activity. Because of that fact, it is also moral. Animals and insects labour, but they do so by instinct. Humans work by determination.

Our labour is more varied, and therefore more creative than that of the animal kingdom. We humans can seek to create efficiency and beauty in what we do. We can judge the fruit of our labour against the standards of form and colour, of contrast and harmony.

As moral activity, work is also impacted by justice. We are called upon to do justice in the workplace. This, of course, demands respect for self and for others. A growing body of thought and research is examining the ethics of the workplace - what is acceptable and what is not - how not only persons but also materials are to be handled.

The very nature of one's work must be more than neutral. At best, we want to see it as beneficial. Labourers who are reflective of their work want to take pride in what they do. The Ford Motor Company would assure us that Quality goes in before the name goes on.

The bottom line is about more than just the money. It is about the labourer's confidence in him- or herself; it is about pride in the goods or services that he or she provides.


Due in large part to the goals of mass production and maximization of profit, the Industrial Revolution has spawned workplaces that can lack the human touch. Long hours and repetitive work can make for a situation wherein the worker who needs a job feels dehumanized.

A robot can do routine tasks with greater speed and precision, and in some instances, automation has replaced the human labourer with a robot. Even in these cases, however, the workplace is still a locus of human activity. Man cannot be totally absent from the workplace, for a human must at least create the robot, if not interact with machinery in the provision of goods and services.

The workplace is always a human place, where men and women gather to spend large portions of their time. For the Christian, conscious of the call to evangelize, the workplace becomes a challenging but an excellent venue for evangelization.


By way of review, let me say a very brief word about evangelization. In the Christian context, the mandate to evangelize is rooted in the parting words of Jesus Christ, as he ascended to the Father. Matthew's is only one of the texts where this mandate is found, in the last three verses of his Gospel:

Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28.18-20)

The Church, having done this well over the past two millennia, now finds herself in a different place, where a "New Evangelization" is needed. This New Evangelization is intended to reach places where the Gospel has already been preached and many baptized.

All evidence reveals, however, that the message and meaning of the Gospel do not touch much of contemporary life, even in those countries and societies thought to be steeped in Christian culture. Let me repeat: For the Christian, conscious of the call to evangelize, the workplace becomes a challenging but an excellent venue for evangelization.

Two self-evident truths should always to be kept in mind whenever we speak of evangelization.

The first is that Christian witness is the best means of evangelization. We proclaim the truth of the Gospel first of all and most clearly not by our words, but by our actions and our way of living.

The social encyclicals of Popes Leo XIII and Pius XI gave rise to the Young Christian Workers.


The social encyclicals of Popes Leo XIII and Pius XI gave rise to the Young Christian Workers.

In Evangelii Nuntiandi no. 41, Pope Paul VI stated, "Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses." Evangelization is about proclaiming the Gospel, but not primarily in words.

The other truth about evangelization is that proclaiming the Gospel is first about discerning God's presence, already at work in the society. God is everywhere, and our pointing this out before we proceed to say more reminds good people that they are never far from the kingdom of God.

When St. Paul addressed the sophisticated people of Athens before the Areopagus, he began by pointing out to them that they already had some awareness of the one true God. Paul's message was to further enlighten them about this "unknown god." (Acts 17)

Jesus Christ is the first evangelizer; he has already shown himself to be where we show up and dare to speak of him.


The 20th century saw a number of noteworthy attempts to evangelize the workplace. Let me speak of some of them. While their success has been high in some and mixed in others, they all express the zeal of Church ministers to reach out to the labourer and to evangelize the workplace.


The earliest and strongest of these has been a movement called Young Christian Workers (in French, Jeunesse ouvrière chrétienne). This international organization was founded by Father Joseph Cardijn in Belgium in 1912.

Father Cardijn blamed the death of his father, a mineworker, on harsh labour conditions. Working-class Belgians in those days tended to see the Church as serving the interests of the aristocracy, thereby betraying the Catholic labourer.

Cardijn set out to devote his ministry to "reconciling his Church with the industrial workers of the world." When Cardijn was first made an assistant priest in the Brussels suburb of Royal Laeken in 1912, he began his ministry to factory workers.

In the years after the First World War, he began to organize young Catholic workers in the Brussels area in the task of evangelizing their colleagues; the group called themselves Jeunesse Ouvrière Chrétienne.

Inspired by the labour encyclicals of Popes Leo XIII and Pius XI, their movement received approval from Pius XI in 1925. Their French acronym, JOC, gave rise to the then widely-used terms Jocism and Jocist.

Reporting on a Paris rally with 75,000 members in 1938, Time magazine quoted Cardijn as telling his followers, "Every Jocist has a divine mission from God, second only to that of the priest, to bring the whole world to Christ."

The organization was innovative, however, in that the apostolic activity was the effort of workers rather than of the clergy. In their attempt to bring Christian principles to their work situations, the workers made use of the formula "See-judge-act."

Father Cardijn devoted the rest of his life to this movement. In time, the movement spread to 51 countries, a truly worldwide mission. In 1957, the JOC held its first world council in Rome. Cardijn served as an advisor to the Second Vatican Council, and was made a cardinal in 1965. He died two short years later.

The JOC is presently organized in Europe, Asia, Australia, Africa and the Americas, encompassing more than 2,000 grassroots groups, uniting some 20,000 young workers as regular members, between the ages of 15 and 35.


In the wake of the Second World War and its destruction, which affected not only the physical landscape of Europe but also its spiritual dimensions, many Church leaders especially in France felt the alienation of the working classes from the Catholic Church.

From this awareness arose the worker-priest, who was identified as a missionary at home. A worker-priest was any priest who was freed from parochial work by his bishop, supported himself by means of full-time labour in a factory or other place of work, and was indistinguishable in appearance from an ordinary workingman.

This movement, which was always most prominent in France, was an attempt to "rediscover the masses" of industrial class workers who had become largely disaffected with the Church.

The one priest who became a spokesman for this movement was a Father Jacques Loew, who began working in the docks of Marseilles in 1941. While Father Loew had been sent by his Dominican superior to "study the condition of the working classes," the intention was not that he actually join the workers.

However, by 1944, the first worker-priest missions were set up in Paris, and then later in Lyons and Marseilles. The hope was that by putting young priests into secular clothes and letting them work in factories, the Church might regain the confidence of the French working class, which had almost completely abandoned the Catholic faith.

This daring social experiment of the French worker-priests was approved by Pope Pius XII in 1945, albeit with some reluctance. However, in the early 1950s, the worker-priest movement fell out of favour with the Holy See due to the activity of many of these priests in left-wing politics, and their perceived abandonment of the traditional priesthood.

As a consequence, the French bishops recalled all their worker-priests, insisting that they leave their secular employment as well as the labour unions. About 50 of them opted to retain their jobs in industry.

For his part, Father Loew acquiesced to the Holy See and quit his job in 1954. He then went on to establish the Sts. Peter and Paul Mission to Workers, which trained priests from among the working class. Loew then travelled to Africa; he then worked in the favelas of São Paolo, Brazil from 1964 to 1969, and subsequently established the School of Faith in Fribourg, Switzerland.

By means of his subsequent writings, Father Loew elaborated a theology that sought to bridge the gaps between factory and dock workers and the Church. Meanwhile, in 1963, worker-priests were allowed to return to the industrial workplace. By the 1990s there were again about 2,000 of them in France, although they were now aging like other Catholic priests in that country.

In the process, the worker-priests had gained certain insights into the alienation of the Church from the modern world and from the working poor. These insights were shared with their bishops and the then papal nuncio to France, Archbishop Angelo Roncalli.

When Roncalli became Pope John XXIII in 1958, he convoked the Second Vatican Council which reflected again on the relationship of the Catholic Church to workers and its mission to evangelize anew the modern world.

In 1947, the young priest Father Karol Wojtyla (the future Pope John Paul II) and a fellow Polish priest studying in Italy travelled to France and Belgium to acquaint themselves with the worker-priest movement. Wojtyla, who had also performed hard labour during his time as a seminarian, reportedly admired the worker-priests that he met there.

On his return, Wojtyla wrote a piece on the worker-priests for a Polish periodical, in which he reported that "Father Loew came to the conclusion that the (Dominican) white habit by itself does not say anything anymore today."


In the late 1960s, three Redemptorist priests established an experimental mission in Pointe Claire, Quebec, on the west island of Montreal. Their quest was to explore how the Church might better understand and minister to ordinary people in the rapidly changing reality of modern suburbia. Bear in mind that this was in the wake of the Quiet Revolution, which shook to its very roots the Catholic Church in Quebec society.

It is the function of a well-formed Christian conscience to see that the divine law is inscribed in the life of the earthly city.


It is the function of a well-formed Christian conscience to see that the divine law is inscribed in the life of the earthly city.

In the fall of 1969, two of these priests, along with an Anglican priest and seven businessmen entered into a series of discussions to address the question, "Is there a place for the priest in industry?" Unlike the role of the worker-priest earlier described, their focus was the role of a priest as priest, or chaplain if you will, in a factory.

Over several months, this group worked out the terms by which Father Mickey Kenney, one of the Redemptorists, would work as a chaplain to both management and line workers in a factory.

In the May 1970 newsletter of the Northern Electric Laurentian Works factory, the role of Father Kenney in this pilot project was spelled out: "[Father Kenney] has access to all levels: management, non-management, union-association, office, shop, work stations and wherever else there are people. It is to be a non-structured open kind of venture where he will define his job according to his insights and needs of the people he is serving.

"The approach is conceived as an effort to reach the working man where many of his personal attitudes and values are formed. As well as serving as an opportunity for the priest to influence the industrial milieu, it will also be invaluable for the priest to understand and respond to problems which have at least some roots in a person's business and work life. . . .

"He will not be denominational in outlook, but rather, humanly oriented. He will be non-partisan and will be available to anyone and everyone who would like to talk to him and whatever they discuss will remain completely confidential."

Father Kenney began his ministry at the Northern Electric Laurentian Works in July 1970. Regrettably, he was killed in a car accident on Dec. 1, 1970 as he returned to Montreal from his home town of Thetford Mines. With his death, this pilot project of a chaplain in the factory also died.

A tribute to him in the shop newsletter spoke in gratitude of "his work with shop employees and help(ing) them with their social and religious problems. He discussed religion, personal problems, spoke on employees' behalf with supervisors and even helped those who were in trouble with the law."

Another valiant attempt by the Church to evangelize the workplace.


These examples of projects by the Church reflect her desire to be present to and bring a message to the workplace. These have been inspired by Church teachings over the past century and more. In the spirit of the present Jubilee Year of Faith marking the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Second Vatican Council, let me refer briefly to some teachings found in two of the documents of Vatican II.

The first of these is the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, also known as Gaudium et Spes. What does this document teach us about evangelizing the workplace?

"Let there be no false opposition between professional and social activities on the one part, and religious life on the other. The Christian who neglects his temporal duties, neglects his duties toward his neighbour and even God, and jeopardizes his eternal salvation." (GS 43)

"Secular duties and activities belong properly although not exclusively to laymen. . . . Laymen should also know that it is generally the function of their well-formed Christian conscience to see that the divine law is inscribed in the life of the earthly city. . . .

"Since they have an active role to play in the whole life of the Church, laymen are not only bound to penetrate the world with a Christian spirit, but are also called to be witnesses to Christ in all things in the midst of human society." (GS 43)

"Enlightened by Christian wisdom and giving close attention to the teaching authority of the Church, let the layman take on his own distinctive role. . . . They should always try to enlighten one another through honest discussion, preserving mutual charity and caring above all for the common good." (GS 43)

  1. Our religious life as Christians is not separated from our work life in the secular world.
  2. The task of evangelizing the workplace belongs primarily to the laity.
  3. Christian workers are to humbly seek the truth, and collaborate with their co-workers.

The other Vatican II document I want to highlight is the Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People, otherwise known by its Latin title, Apostolicam Actuositatem. Let me glean from this document three more teachings about evangelizing the workplace:

"Since Christ, sent by the Father, is the source and origin of the whole apostolate of the Church, the success of the lay apostolate depends upon the laity's living union with Christ, in keeping with the Lord's words, 'He who abides in me, and I in him, bears much fruit, for without me you can do nothing.'"(John 15.5). (AA 4)

"Apostolate of this kind does not consist only in the witness of one's way of life; a true apostle looks for opportunities to announce Christ by words addressed either to non-believers with a view to leading them to faith, or to the faithful with a view to instructing, strengthening, and encouraging them to a more fervent life. 'For the charity of Christ impels us' (2 Corinthians 5.14). The words of the Apostle should echo in all hearts, 'Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel'" (1 Corinthians 9.16). (AA 6)

"It is altogether necessary that one should consider in one's neighbour the image of God in which he has been created. . . . It is imperative also that the freedom and dignity of the person being helped be respected with the utmost consideration, that the purity of one's charitable intentions be not stained by seeking one's own advantage or by striving for domination, and especially that the demands of justice be satisfied lest the giving of what is due in justice be represented as the offering of a charitable gift." (AA 8)

  1. The layperson must have an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ, built on virtue and the sacramental life.
  2. The apostle to the workplace is an opportunist.
  3. This evangelization must be conducted in a spirit of respect and justice.


I began this reflection by drawing our attention to St. Benedict and the two pillars on which he constructed the pursuit of holiness: prayer and work. These are not separate activities, but two human endeavours that are intimately related, one to the other. We need these both, as humans and as believers.

Mary of Bethany welcomed Jesus by sitting at his feet and listening to him, while her sister Martha welcomed him by preparing in the kitchen. The Blessed Mother "pondered all these things in her heart," while St. Joseph plied his trade in the carpenter shop with Jesus at his side.

For the Christian of today, who is both worker and evangelist, and for whom all things are "in Christ", it is ultimately necessary to hold prayer and work in balance. Let us pray:

O Lord, our Creator, you imposed a duty on all human beings to work together to build up the world. Help us to develop the earth by the work of our hands and with the aid of technology, in order that it may bear fruit and become a dwelling place worthy of the whole human family.

When we do this or consciously take part in the life of social groups, we are carrying out your plan manifested at the beginning of time that we should subdue the earth, perfect creation and develop ourselves. Let us realize that we are also obeying Christ's command to place ourselves at the service of others in bringing forth a more human world, through your Son Jesus Christ in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen.