Prizing 'friendship and goodwill among Catholic men'

By Neil Sayer, Archdiocesan archivist

The three splendidly-moustached chaps illustrated here are officers of a Catholic Young Men's Society in 1908. J O’Hare, C Boon and J Conboy are pictured with their parish clergy in a brochure celebrating their society's Golden Jubilee at St Joseph's on Grosvenor Street, Liverpool.

This may well represent the heyday of such organisations, though even into the 1960s most of our churches still had a Young Men's Society affiliated to them. They offered a safe meeting place for those too old for a youth club and too averse to the temptations of a public bar. It's possible that they also encouraged school friendships to survive, and they certainly added to the religious and social life of a parish.

The Young Men's Societies had their origins in Victorian Britain, and Liverpool – together with Glasgow – was busiest in creating them. By the 1880s they were holding national conferences, with delegates from Liverpool numerous. Conference reports in the Archdiocesan archives show the activities of quite a number of societies allied to churches in the city and its suburbs, as well as others from Wigan and Ormskirk. All were proud to be able to offer meeting rooms where games such as billiards, cards, draughts and chess could be played. (Some even stretched to skittles, gymnastics and quoits.)

Of great importance too was the chance to catch up on Catholic newspapers, which were absent certainly from most working-class homes, and there was often also a small library available. Talks were given on a variety of literary, religious and historical subjects, and picnics and other excursions were also offered. Many of the societies formed football or cricket teams to take part in local leagues, and those with a taste for amateur dramatics were catered for too. As a representative from one of the Bootle churches said: 'These little reunions tended greatly towards establishing friendship and goodwill among the Catholic young men of our district.'

By the 1970s many societies were struggling to maintain their membership. There were other distractions and alternative social activities. A lot of parish-based societies ceased to function, and even the national association's days were numbered. Administered in its later years from our curial offices on Brownlow Hill,
the Catholic Men's Society of Great Britain celebrated its centenary in 1977, with an address by Archbishop Derek Worlock. Regrettably, it seems to have folded around ten years later.