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The Sitz im Leben of the 1940s. What can we learn?

Fides Publishers Association was born in 1940 under the guidance and control of Father Louis J. Putz, C. S. C., its first president. Father Putz, on the University of Notre Dame faculty, was deeply involved in the Catholic Action movement, widespread in Europe at the time but virtually nonexistent in the United States. This movement had as its goal the active participation of Catholic laypeople in the affairs of a Church, which until that time had been entirely dominated by the clergy. Father Putz hoped to educate the Catholic laypeople through this publishing organization about his new and active role within the Church by putting literature already circulating widely throughout Europe, England, and Canada. The goal of Fides Press was to translate and publish books. Group discussions would form around the community to share what the books meant and how to apply them in one’s life.

At the same time, another similar movement was being launched called The Great Books Movement. This educational movement originated in Chicago in the United States. It emphasized studying classic literature and philosophy, known as “great books,” to promote critical thinking, civic engagement, and a shared cultural heritage.

The movement was founded by Robert Hutchins, president of the University of Chicago, and Mortimer Adler, a philosopher. They believed studying “great books” could help people develop the intellectual skills to understand complex issues, make sound judgments, and participate effectively in a democracy.

The Great Books Movement had a significant impact on American education. It led to the development of new curricula focused on studying great books and inspired the creation of many discussion groups and reading clubs. The movement also had a lasting impact on American culture. It helped shape how Americans think about education, citizenship, and the role of the humanities in society.

Some of the key features of the Great Books Movement include:

  1. (SEE) A focus on the study of classic works of literature and philosophy. The movement believed these works could provide students with a foundation for understanding the world and their place in it.

  2. (JUDGE) An emphasis on critical thinking and discussion. The movement believed that students should be able to analyze and evaluate ideas rather than memorize facts.

  3. (ACT) A commitment to civic engagement. The movement believed studying great books could help people become more informed and engaged citizens.

  4. A belief in the importance of a shared cultural heritage. The movement believed that studying great books could help create a shared understanding of the values and traditions that define a society.

Now think about Fr. Putz and Fides Press, the movement of the Great Books launching in Chicago, and The Catholic Family Movement (CFM). The first chaplains of CFM in Chicago, Fr. Louis Putz and Msgr. Reynold Hillenbrand. The Christian Family Movement (CFM) is a Catholic movement that helps families to grow in their faith and commitment to each other. CFM is based on the principle of “observe, judge, act,” which encourages families to reflect on their experiences. Consider how these movements evolved, but think about the cause and the stimulus to create these movements. This movement found a common cause, goal, and need to unite as a community to learn, grow, share, and take action. Together, they identify areas where they can grow and take action to strengthen their families.

The Great Books Movement, the Jocist Movement, and CFM are based on the principle of “see, judge, act.” They both encourage people to reflect on their experiences in the light of their faith and to take action to make the world a better place. Think about today: are we missing something?

In sum, the Great Books, Fides Press, and Jocist Movement all have their roots in Western civilization; today, we are a global church with global reach, and communications with each other around the globe are just a zoom away.

It is time to create more global “great books” that incorporate liberation theology, history, and the cultural aspects of our world. To enable the work of the Jocist movements to reach the next generation.

Time To ACT

Starting a book discussion group can be a rewarding experience, bringing people together over a shared love of learning. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you get started:

1. Define your JOCST/CST/MINISTRY vision:

  1. Theme or genre: Will you focus on a specific genre, like academics or classics, or be open to anything?

  2. Meeting format: In-person, online, or a hybrid?

  3. Frequency: Weekly, monthly, or at your own pace?

  4. Discussion style: Open-ended or guided by prepared questions?

2. Gather your fellow bibliophiles:

  1. Start with friends and family: Share your idea and gauge their interest.

  2. Spread the word: Utilize online forums, community boards, social media, or local libraries.

  3. Consider partnering with local social and Church organizations: Libraries, bookstores, or community centers can offer space and resources.

3. Decide on logistics:

  1. Meeting location: Comfortable and accessible for everyone.

  2. Book/Topic selection process: Will you vote, take turns choosing, or follow a theme? Consider using online tools like Goodreads Polls.

  3. Book accessibility: Ensure everyone can quickly obtain copies, whether through libraries, used bookstores, or online retailers.

4. Facilitate discussions:

  1. Prepare discussion prompts: Encourage thought-provoking questions and avoid spoilers.

  2. Foster an inclusive environment: Encourage respectful dialogue and diverse perspectives.

  3. Rotate discussion leadership: Share the responsibility and keep things dynamic.

5. Additional tips:

  1. Set ground rules: Establish expectations for attendance, participation, and respect.

  2. Utilize online resources: Many websites offer book discussion guides, templates, and tips.

  3. Be flexible and adaptable: Learn from your group’s feedback and adjust accordingly.

….a good book can teach you about the world and about yourself. You learn more than how to read better; you also learn more about life. You become wiser. Not just more knowledgeable – books that provide nothing but information can produce that result. But wiser, in the sense that you are more deeply aware of the great and enduring truths of human life.” ~ Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading

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