With a joyful note, let the earth resonate, on the hills and valleys, let it bounce; A new crusade we proclaim with rapt hearts in this chorus. Our banner to the winds unfurls, our war cry to all those we send;
Like the knights of old, there is no reprieve until all men receive this truth.
This hymn was sung by members of the Catholic Student Missionary Crusade (CSMC), a massive movement for Catholic youth in the 20th century that ended as quickly as it began. Several seminarians from Techny, Illinois, founded the popular movement in 1918 in response to life after World War I. Youth created the MHCC for Youth. They established their first units in seminaries and colleges, and grew to include members for high schools and elementary schools with “units” in schools and parishes.
Using language evocative of medieval Europe, the mission of the MHCC was to educate members of the universal needs of the Church, as well as to make young people virtuous and upright citizens. The CSMC flag carried a shield (representing soldiers going into battle) with an open book (education) bearing the Latin expression Cognoscetis Vertitatem (“You will know the truth”).
The national organization established its headquarters in Cincinnati, as several founding members were from the area and the bishops of the archdiocese were active and vocal supporters of the organization. In 1923, the executive offices, which orchestrated the activities, publications and conventions of the MHCC, were set up at the “Château de la Croisade”, a former wine estate adjacent to Ault Park.
The local units were supervised by priests or nuns, but the students directed the activities. The numerous publications of educated members of society and their gatherings attracted tens of thousands of participants. They informed their society about Catholic education and world events through various means of communication, including their newsletter, The Shield, plays, radio programs, masses and public lectures.
MHCC radio broadcasts covered a wide and diverse range of topics. The listeners were educated on human dignity, the right to organize a strike and descriptions of foreign places. Other radio broadcasts included skits emphasizing the importance of holy days, religious practices or examples of virtue. “The High Road, the Low Road” aired in 1949 and told the story of Tom who was initially too lazy to go to church for eight days in a row to pray for Christian unity, but after meeting figures in a dream, including Martin Luther, he prayed zealously for his estranged brothers.
What started with a handful of members quickly grew to 500,000 in the 1930s and over a million in the 1950s. A combination of many changes led to the decline of the Catholic student missionary crusade after the years. 1950, including the decline in popularity of military pageantry and imagery. In 1970, the MHCC voted to dissolve it. Although the memory of the MHCC has faded, it remains an important event in the life of the Church in the 20th century.
This article appeared in the August 2021 edition of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your free subscription, click on here.