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A Crusade for Christ

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With joyous note let earth resound, o’er hill and dale let it rebound; A new Crusade do we proclaim with rapturous hearts in this refrain. Our banner to the winds unfurl, our battle-cry to all we hurl;
Like knights of old there’s no reprieve until all men this truth receive.

This hymn was sung by members of the Catholic Students’ Mission Crusade (CSMC), a massive movement for Catholic youth in the 20th Century that ended as quickly as it began. Several seminarians in Techny, IL, founded the grassroots movement 1918 in response to life following the First World War. Young people created the CSMC for young people. They established their first units at seminaries and colleges, and grew to include membership for high schools and elementary schools with “units” at schools and parishes.

Using language evocative of medieval Europe, the CSMC’s mission was to educate members in the universal needs of the Church, as well as form young people into virtuous and upstanding citizens. CSMC’s flag bore a shield (representing soldiers going into battle) with an open book (education) bearing the Latin phrase, Cognoscetis Vertitatem (“You shall know the truth”).

The national organization established their headquarters in Cincinnati, as several founding members were from the area and the archdiocese’s bishops were active, vocal supporters of the organization. In 1923, the executive offices, which orchestrated the activities, publications and conventions of the CSMC, were set up at the “Crusade Castle,” a former winery next to Ault Park.

Local units were overseen by priests or women religious, but students led the activities. The many publications of the society educated members and their rallies attracted tens of thousands of attendees. They informed their society about both Catholic teaching and world events through a variety of communications outlets, including their newsletter, The Shield, plays, radio programs, Masses, and public lectures.

CSMC’s radio shows covered a wide and diverse set of topics. Listeners were educated on the dignity of man, the right to organize a strike and descriptions of foreign places. Other radio programs included skits emphasizing the importance of holy days, religious practices or examples of virtue. “The High Road, the Low Road” was broadcast in 1949 and told the story of Tom who was at first too lazy to attend church for eight days in a row to pray for Christian unity, but after encountering characters in a dream, including Martin Luther, he zealously prayed for his separated brethren.

What began with a handful of members quickly grew to 500,000 by the 1930s, and to more than one million by the 1950s. A combination of many changes led to the waning of the Catholic Students’ Mission Crusade after the 1950s, including the declining popularity of pageantry and Army imagery. In 1970, CSMC voted to disband. Although the memory of the CSMC has faded, it remains an important event in the life of the 20th Century Church.

This article appeared in the August 2021 edition of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your complimentary subscription, click here.

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