A Brief History of IMCS-Pax Romana

1887-1921: Prehistory: The International Union of Catholic Students

“If Catholics were not the first to found an international student union, it seems at least that they were the first to have the idea.” In 1887, Baron George de Montenach of Fribourg, Switzerland, the president of the Swiss Students’ Society proposed the idea at the General Assembly of the Society to create an “International Union of Catholic Students.” On August 23rd, 1887, Montenach’s idea was accepted by the Society and it was approved by Pope Leo XIII. The bishop of the diocese, the future Cardinal Mermillod, led the discussions of the provisional committee. Georges de Montenach was chosen as President of the Union and traveled around Europe to visit with the existing student organizations and to help in the establishing of new ones.

Because of the efforts of Montenach and other leaders, over 7,000 students traveled to Rome in 1891 for a pilgrimage. As part of that event, 1,700 of them attended the assembly of the Union and 300 of them worked on drafting the statutes, with Fribourg as the headquarters. “Un­fortunately, political complication soon gave a mortal blow to this young Union. And eventually very little remained of this Congress. Different efforts, notably in 1893, 1900 and 1917, to give life again to the Union, were fruitless.”

The Union would play an important role as it was closely linked with what was called the Fribourg Union. The Fribourg Union, made up of lay intellectuals met each October from 1885 to 1891 to study contemporary problems that had emerged with the divisions of classes, the emergence of the industrial worker class and the other social problems emerging in the era of industrialization.  Because of this work, the Fribourg Union was charged with the task to be a “think-tank” in helping Pope Leo XIII to draft the historic foundational document of modern Catholic Social Teaching, Rerum Novarum by Pope Leo XII.

Although the International Union of Catholic Students was short lived its vision would continue with the national groups, especially the Swiss Students’ Society, the Federazione Universitaria Cattolica Italiana (FUCI) and the different German student associations.  

1921: Foundation of “Pax Romana” The International Confederation of Catholic Students

In 1920, Georges de Montenach was chosen as the president of the newly created International Catholic Study Union, (forerunner of ICMICA). In this spirit, the Swiss students were again inspired to recreate an international union of their own. This desire was deepened by the urgency for reconciliation in a world recently torn apart by the First World War.
In 1920, the Swiss Students’ Society charged its president and secretary, Max Gressly and Father Tschuor, to deepen the contacts with other students groups, especially those in Holland and Spain.  Dr. Gerard Brom, General Secretary of the Netherlands Catholic Associations of Students responded quickly to this effort and a coalition of students from the three neutral countries during the war (Switzerland, Holland and Spain) was created. 

At a meeting between Max Gressly and Dr. Brom in early 1921, it was decided to gather together the different associations of students in July. Mr. Gressly sought approval from the Vatican for this effort and on June 5th, 1921 Pietro Cardinal Gasparri conveyed the approval of the Vatican for this effort. With this approval, an organizing committee was set up with student representatives from Switzerland, Spain and Holland.  

On July 19th, 1921, these efforts came to fruition when student leaders from twenty-three countries from all over war torn Europe, the United States, Argentina, and Java (Indonesia) met in Fribourg, Switzerland for the first Pax Romana Congress. Peace was a central theme of this meeting as the students wanted to bring reconciliation to a world torn apart by war.
Most of the students at the Congress either fought in the First World War or knew people who had and as a result they were divided at the beginning of the Congress. By the end of the Congress, however, the participants were embracing each other, German, French, Italian, American, Swiss, etc. It was in this spirit that the Congress decided to create an international secretariat under the name “Pax Romana” with the idea that the students could work to build peace in world under the motto of “Pax Christi in Regno Christi.”
At the first Congress, Max Gressly was elected as the first President of Pax Romana with Abbé Johannes Tschuor as Secretary General.
In August of 1921, shortly following the first Congress, a study week was held in Ravenna, Italy. At this meeting, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, an active member of the Italian Federation FUCI, raised the awareness of the movement to unemployment and labor issues.
Fribourg was the site of the Second Congress, in August of 1922 where the delegates (which included one from Japan) showed the same desire for solidarity and deepened the vision for this new global movement. They decided to start a work of student hostels and the publication of a  bulletin.
In 1925, Pax Romana was defined as “a Catholic Confederation of students from all over the world” with the “aims to include and represent all legitimate forms of Catholic organizations in the university world and to serve as an instrument of co-ordination for all their varied activities, while leaving to each organization complete freedom to develop its own mystique and methods consisting with it’s own ends.”
During the first twenty years, Abbé Joseph Gremaud of Switzerland, would play an important role in supporting the work of the movement as the second president of Pax Romana (1923-1924),the second Secretary General (1925-1946) and later the first International Chaplain of IMCS (1947-1953) .

Global Advocacy

From the very beginning, Pax Romana worked closely with other international organizations. Because many of the goals of Pax Romana were similar to that of the League of Nations,  Pax Romana was invited to participate in a special way and was able to give input to meetings of the League.

In 1927, Pax Romana and the organization of Catholic women, invited the presidents of the major International Catholic (lay) Organizations working at the League together to discuss common issues. At this meeting, the Conference of (Presidents) International Catholic Organizations (ICO) was created.  

World War II

As tensions in Europe began to rise, Pax Romana was urged by the Pope to find roots in North America. In 1938, Pax Romana elected its first non-European president, Edward Kirchner of the United States and in September of 1939, Pax Romana held its World Congress at Fordham University in New York and Catholic University in Washington, DC.  

As the meeting was underway, Germany invaded Poland, sparking the Second World War. In response to the news, the members of the Congress, which included student from Poland, Germany, France, Italy, China, India, and the United Sates gathered in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. As a result of the War, the charted ship for the European delegates was cancelled and hundreds of students were stranded in the United States. After several weeks, many of the students could find ways to return home, but some chose to stay and support the work of the movement throughout the Americas.

During the War, Pax Romana opened a temporary office in Washington, DC. There under the leadership Ed Kirchner and with the help of Fr. John Courtney Murry, SJ, the office helped strengthen the federations in the Americas and helped coordinate some war relief efforts. During the War, Rudi Salat (Germany), one of the leaders stranded in the Untied States, after the Congress played an important role in promoting and organizing the movement in Latin America.  

Relief Efforts

During and after the War, Pax Romana continued the important work of relief efforts to students who were negatively affected by the conflict. In this effort, Pax Romana and the World Student Christian Federation created a joint student Entr’aide program, which eventually grew into the World University Service. During the war, both the Washington and Fribourg secretariats would take leadership roles in these efforts.

As part of this program, Pax Romana was asked by the Swiss Catholic Mission to coordinate a book service. By the end of June 1946, 600,000 books in 15,000 parcels and 250 cases had been sent to student prisoners. The Vatican and the US National Catholic Welfare Conference funded these efforts.  

Pax Romana also helped create the European Fund for Aid to Students, which became in August 1943 the World Fund for Aid to Students. This fund was run by a committee which had Fr. Gre­maud (Pax Romana Secretary General) as Vice-President from the start. André Florinetti, the future President of Pax Romana, also became a member in 1942. This service came to the help of students who were prisoners of war and refugees. The com­mittee of this fund carried out its work until the end of 1949. After the end of hostilities, the efforts focused on helping students suffering from tuberculosis at Leysin, maintenance of rest centers at Combloux (France), Rocca di Papa (Italy), and Ashton Hayes (Great Britain). The Committee also helped in the opening of university hostels in China and India, and the sending of books, pharmaceutical products and laboratory equipment into these countries.

Post War

After the War, the full time work of the secretariat moved back to Fribourg and Pax Romana again brought together students from warring countries together based in the common identity of being a Catholic student. In this post war period, Pax Romana focused on:

strengthening and developing new national Catholic student federations, in Latin America, Africa and Asia,
setting up a series of important services for students (including scholarship funds for African and Asian students to attend universities in Europe),
helping in the resettling and relief efforts of refuges after the War,
organizing students together in “specialized secretariats” based in their fields of study (Medicine (1932), Press (1932), Law (1934), Comparative Literature (1935), etc) and
setting up a series of important services for students (including scholarship funds for African and Asian students to attend universities in Europe)

Many of these efforts would result in the foundation of autonomous organizations and services.

1946-2006: Collaboration with IYCS 

At the 25th World Congress of Pax Romana in September of 1946, in Fribourg, the International Young Catholic (Christian) Students (IYCS) was founded. Although YCS groups, inspired by the Catholic Action methodology of the Belgium priest (later Cardinal) Joseph Cardijn had existed for many years, there was no formal international coordination. As a number of those groups had links with Pax Romana, the movement invited these groups to organize a program in conjunction with the Congress. Since then, IYCS and Pax Romana have had a close and dynamic working relationship.

1947: The division of Pax Romana into students and intellectuals

At the 26th World Congress of Pax Romana in 1947, Pax Romana officially divided itself into two autonomous branches, the International Movement of Catholic Students (IMCS) and the International Catholic Movement for Intellectual and Cultural Affairs (ICMICA). The two branches would, however, continue to work together and share a common secretariat until 1977. 

1946-1949: Founding of the UN

In 1949, Pax Romana (ICMICA-IMCS) was one of the first Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) granted Special Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council. Since then Pax Romana has played a key role in the United Nations and UNESCO taking leadership roles in areas of: human rights, conscientious objection, social development, sustainable development, youth, education, religious freedom, women’s rights, and disarmament.

1950: Holy Year

During the Holy Jubilee Year of 1950, IMCS Pax Romana helped organize a pilgrimage to Rome for five thousand graduates and undergraduates.

1950s and 1960s: Ecumenical and Inter religious Dialogue

IMCS would play an important role in the development of Ecumenical and Inter-religious dialogue. Following the World War II, IMCS developed strong relationships with the World Student Christian Federation (WSCF). Some of the IMCS

Inter-Federal Assemblies (IFAs) were held in conjunction with the WSCF and for a number of years in the 1960s, the North American Secretariat was a joint office of WSCF, IMCS and ICMICA.

In 1959, IMCS and ICMICA held a historic meeting in Manila under the auspices of UNESCO on “The present impact of the Great Religious on the lives of Men in the Orient and Occident.” This was attended by Hindus, Buddhists, Shintoists, Muslims, Jews, Orthodox, Protestants, and Catholics. This meeting was one of the first formal meetings sponsored by Catholics and with the approval the Vatican, that brother together so many different religious leaders.  

1940s-1990s: Regionalization

Based in the principal of subsidiary, IMCS has sought to develop regional secretariats to better help coordinate the national movements at the regional level. During World War II, the IMCS federations in Latin America set up a regional secretariat in 1941 and in 1952, it created 3 sub secretariats. In December of 1953, a formation seminar was organized for Asian students in Madras (India). In 1954, the IMCS groups in Asia began to meet as a region within the context of the global meetings. In 1957, the first African Seminar was organized in Ghana.

With these events the movements outside Europe have grown. Presently there are IMCS regional secretariats or coordinations in Asia

Pacific, Pan Africa and North America. In Europe, the Middle East, and Latin America IMCS has developed close relationships with the IYCS and have created joint secretariats/coordinations. These Secretariats have developed many important publications and have organized important and significant events at the regional levels.

1962-1965: Second Vatican Council

During the Second Vatican Council, IMCS, and IMCS friends played important roles. Pax Romana ICMICA Secretary General Ramon Sugranyes de Franch was chosen as one of the 12 Lay Auditors of the Council. Australian Rosemary Goldie who was a former member of the international secretariat (and founder of IMCS in Australia), was very active as one of the few lay women to be involved in the Council and she would later become the first lay woman to work in the Roman curia. Former IMCS chaplain, John Courtney Murray, SJ, assisted by former IMCS president Ed Kirchner, played a key role in the writing of the Declaration of Religious Freedom.

Before the Council, IMCS and IMCS federations were already “reading the signs of the times” and responding to them. The documents of the Council only deepened IMCS’ commitment to social justice, living the “Gospel in the modern world,” inter-religious and ecumenical dialogue, and the important role of the laity in the Church.  

In 1963, during the Council, the Church elected Giovanni Battista Montini as Pope Paul VI. This was a great milestone for IMCS-Pax Romana, as Montini had served as national chaplain for FUCI (IMCS Italy) in the 1920s. As chaplain, Montini had participated in several IMCS Pax Romana activities and later as Secretary of State, Montini kept close relations with Pax Romana.

1968: Student Revolution

European and American IMCS federations were greatly impacted by the May 1968 Revolution at the University of Pars and the anti-Vietnam War movements. Many students were empowered by these events, but sadly some of the national movements experienced a sharp decline.

1960s and 1970s: Liberation Theology

In the 1960s and 1970s, IMCS, inspired by the Vatican Council, regional bishops meetings, the major social encyclicals and the experiences of its members, focused its attention on the poor and the marginalized.

At this time, IMCS in Latin America was growing closer to IYCS. A number of IMCS federations were in fact YCS groups in the university and were double affiliated to both. In Latin America, the two movements worked very closely and took leading roles in Liberation Theology. Former IMCS member and Chaplain of IMCS Peru (UNEC), Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez, OP would have a significant impact on IMCS, the Church, and the world (especially Latin America) with the writing of “A Theology of Liberation” (1971). This foundational text of Liberation Theology references IMCS, IMCS national movements and members several times.

A significant moment in IMCS occurred in the 1971 IFA in Fribourg. While celebrating IMCS’ 50th anniversary, this 27th IFA focused on “Liberation – How?” This IFA changed the methods in which IMCS held international meetings. Instead of hearing from eminent personalities and then having student workshops, the 1971 IFA began with the student experience and held study sessions in methods drawing from the Catholic Action methods.

The next IMCS IFA would take place in Lima in August of 1975 with 80 delegates coming from 32 national federations. This IFA used the same methodology as in 1971 and focused on the theme “Christian Commitment in a world in crisis.” This meeting reexamined the role and life of IMCS and committed itself to the preferential option for the poor.   

IMCS would also impact Liberation Theology in the Asian context with Tissa Balasuriya, O.M.I of Sri Lanka serving as an active chaplain to IMCS at the local and regional level.

1970s-Today: IMCS and IYCS

In the 1970s, IMCS would grow closer to IYCS. This would be both enriching and changeling at the same time. IMCS and IYCS would establish joint regions in Latin America, Europe and the Middle East. In 1978, IMCS held it’s IFA in conjunction with IYCS’ World Council (WC) in Valladolid, Spain. There the two movements examined their relationship, taking into consideration their commonalities and differences. As part of this event, the two adopted the IMCS-IYCS Common Pastoral Project for common work in the universities.

As part of this new relationship, the IMCS International Secretariat would leave its long time home in Fribourg, and its common office with ICMICA to share space in Paris with IYCS.

IMCS and IYCS would continue to use this model of common study sessions and separate IFAs and WCs until 1991. At the IFA and WC in 1991 in Hong Kong IMCS decided to replace the IFA with an International Committee. IYCS decided to use the International Committee (IC) as its alternate to the World Council.  

In 1995, IMCS and IYCS organized the first International Committees (IC) in Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast. As with the previous system, the ICs would have common study sessions and separate statutory sessions.

In August of 1999, IMCS and IYCS held the second ICs and adopted a Protocol of Collaboration between IYCS and IMCS. In August of 2003, IMCS and IYCS held the third ICs in Barcelona with the theme of “Students Ready for Change.”

Other Important Moments
There are other very important moments in the history of IMCS that are not detailed here, including the publications of IMCS, the role of IMCS in the Vatican (including the World Youth Days), and the work of IMCS at the United Nations