Catholic Street Teaching Revisited

October 1987Gerard Casey

Gerard Casey is a professor of philosophy at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

Over a period of almost 50 years, in London, New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities in England, America, and Australia, men and women stood on street corners, in parks, and in other public places expounding the teachings of the Church to all who would listen. They were members of the Catholic Evidence Guild (founded in London in 1918, in New York in 1928), an organization dedicated to presenting the truths of the Catholic Faith to the man in the street. A typical C.E.G. outdoor meeting would consist of a succinct presentation on some specific aspect of the Catholic Faith followed by a period of free-wheeling question and answer. The presentation itself always comprised exposition and explanation, never polemic, preaching, or argument. The presenter, who had to undergo rigorous training before being allowed to speak in public, would answer all questions candidly, endeavoring to convey the teachings of the Church to an audience occasionally hostile to them, and almost always ignorant of them.

The accomplishments of the Guild are hard to gauge since no statistics were kept. But there were some spectacular successes. As Donald Ward recounts, "Once Frank Sheed was approached by a man who had heard him speak for the English Guild in Hyde Park 20 years before and had become a Catholic as a result. One man who had been a fierce heckler at Guild meetings is now an abbot. Another has become a vicar-general."

At present the C.E.G. is practically moribund. The New York Guild has suspended its activities indefinitely and the Washington Guild no longer operates. How could an organization, which could field 600 trained speakers in England alone, atrophy to such a degree? In an interview with The Catholic Digest in December 1981, Frank Sheed claimed that the most serious cause of the Guild's decline was a growing confusion about what the Church taught.

When nobody knew any longer what the Church taught, nobody felt called upon to go out and tell people what the Church taught. Those of us who had been trained before this came in could still go out and get the same sort of crowd. But the people who hadn't been formed before this explosion felt no desire to go out and teach.

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