January 1, 2024 | Archives
Fr. Stephen Van Lal Than

C.S.M.C. members standing in military rank and file at a Mount Saint Joseph Rally. COURTESY OF ARCHIVES

Was a diocesan priest responsible for one of the largest American Catholic youth movements ever?


In November, the National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC) gathered in Indianapolis, Indiana. The event is highly praised for its ability to ignite enthusiasm and draw young Catholics closer to Christ. This is a noble pursuit as devout young people have few opportunities of this kind today. Outreach to the youth is a long-standing mission in the Church. One of the largest youth outreach organizations of this kind, may still be remembered by many in the diocese, the Catholic Students Mission Crusade (CSMC). However, few may know what impact one of our very own priests, Fr. Jolly Paschal Hayden, had on the movement.

The CSMC was a youth organization that was started in 1918. The organization is stated as being founded by Frs. Clifford J King and Robert D. Clark. Fr. Hayden is not a credited founder. However, we have accounts in our archive that claim that the initial movement had begun to flounder until Fr. Hayden, then a seminarian, stepped in to save the cause by calling the first national convention in 1918. This can easily be brushed away as hyperbolic except for the fact that the story is supported by the testimony of Archbishop Cornelius Bergan of Omaha. One of the credited founders, Fr. King, also publicly stated that the organization, in all probability, may have died out had it not been for the work which Fr. Hayden had been behind while still a seminarian at Saint Meinrad. Further, Fr. Hayden was the district manager of the Cincinnati chapter, where the CSMC was headquartered, so he was very influential.

Fr. Jolly P. Hayden, in 1919, the year of his ordination. COURTESY OF ARCHIVES

The organization became unbelievably large nationally as well as in our diocese. By the 1930s the organization had over 500,000 crusaders, that’s one fourth the size of the current Knights of Columbus. Utilizing our diocesan activity to calculate national growth, it is not unlikely that CSMC membership matched that of the K of C before the former’s end in the 1970s. In 1962, our diocese had a CSMC Rally in which nearly 6,000 CSMC members filled the sports center.

Due to a change in Church culture, the CSMC was ended in the 1970s. Though the group was basically a youth-run benevolent society, the imagery of the crusader became less favorable within the Church. The regalia, marching, and militaristic processions paid a homage to the ancient Catholic warriors that was deemed perhaps a bit distasteful for a more modern and global Church.

Fr. Hayden would not see the end of the CSMC, however, as he passed away unexpectedly in 1941 at age 50. In his short life he had accomplished a great deal for the Church. He helped establish the CSMC and was a “pioneer in the rural cooperative movement” receiving “national recognition.”

Fr. Jolly P. Hayden is a shining example of the impact one young Catholic can have on the world. The final words ever written by Fr. Hayden, while reflecting on Mary and the Christ Child, echo the zeal of the good priest, “only God, only the Divine, eternal, everlasting Truth!” Fr. Jolly P. Hayden, pray for us!

Edward Wilson is the director of the Diocese of Owensboro’s Archives and the Archives of the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph. Comments and questions may be sent to [email protected].

Originally printed in the January 2024 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.

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