“Als de Heer het huis niet bouwt, werken de arbeiders tevergeefs”. Een theoretisch-theologische benadering van het bedrijfsapostolaat van de jezuïeten te Amsterdam, 1950-1967.

Translated title of the contribution: 'Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain’: A Theoretical-theological Approach to the Jesuit Mission in the Workplace in Amsterdam 1950-1967

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


The Jesuits were the first in the post-war Netherlands to experiment with a new form of mission in the workplace, independent from parishes. Internationally, this work had already seen some success in the 1940s in France, where it had originated among other things from the direct experiences of labour that priests had had in the German labour camps. From this developed the équipes of worker-priests (prêtres-ouvriers) who worked alongside the workers in French factories and harbours. Inspired by the nouvelle théologie, these priests hoped to find new ways of experiencing the church, because the traditional structure of parishes turned out to be insufficient for workers, and the influence of communism was considered a major danger. Many workers had by then abandoned the church or had never even been in one. From 1947 onward, the Dutch Jesuits also started this type of pastoral care in the two main industrial cities of the country: Amsterdam and Rotterdam. In the Dutch capital, this was started as the parish mission among the poor, whereas in Rotterdam, a pastoral approach on the work floor was chosen right from the start. In post-war Europe, the new superior general of the Jesuit order made a case for promoting ‘social work’ as a typically Jesuit mission. With the start of the Katholiek Sociaal Centrum Amsterdam (KSCA, ‘Catholic social centre Amsterdam’) in 1950, the Amsterdam parish mission developed into a mission for the workplace. The same had already been achieved in Rotterdam. The KSCA was expanded under the inspiring leadership of Karel Vosskühler s.j. While the ‘workers mission’ was at first only directed at the working man, it was later restyled to become a mission for the workplace in the literal sense of the word. The clergy believed that the unchristian and impersonal structures of large scale industries and the mass-character of work threatened catholic and non-catholic workers alike. Theologians like Marie-Dominique Chenu o.p. and Karl Rahner s.j. tried to formulate a positive answer to this problem.
Partly due to the suspension of the experiment with the worker-priests by Rome in 1954, the Dutch Jesuits developed a different pastoral method to get into contact with workers. This multi-stage system, which entailed a cadre of catholic workers being trained by company chaplains to try to interest others in matters of faith, initially seemed successful, but would come to a standstill in the years that followed. Few workers appeared to be interested in a role as company missionary. Apart from that, the work took on a rather more generally formative character for which the fathers were ill-equipped, and which caused the Christian message to be watered down. The shortage of priests also meant that there were fewer and fewer people to engage in social work in Amsterdam. Moreover, the Jesuit leadership started to doubt the usefulness of the work as the secularisation progressed. Still, the decision by the board in 1967 to discontinue the KSCA came as a shock to many. The workers mission in Rotterdam continued for some time still, but a few decades later, that too ceased to exist.
Original languageDutch
Pages (from-to)153-174
JournalTijdschrift voor Theologie
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2018


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