The Development of the German Kolping Society after 1945 in the Mirror of Labor Related Association Work: A Contribution to the History of Social Movements and ‘Associational Catholicism’

The international working Kolping Society is one of the oldest Catholic social organizations. It relates to Adolph Kolping, the former shoemaker and Catholic priest. A long time before the first social encyclical Rerum Novarum was announced, he founded - inspired by the Elberfeld youth association of teacher Johann Gregor Breuer – the first travelling craftsmen society in Cologne in 1849. Education, sociability and religious edification, these were the declared devices for fighting social problems of young craftsmen. The model caught on and soon new societies were founded, joining together in 1850 to the local Rheinischer Gesellenbund and one year later to the Catholic Journeyman’s Association (Katholischer Gesellenverein). Historical milestone was the building of journeyman’s houses. It was not just a club house. Here young craftsmen could find shelter, a real home on their professional journey. Under the impact of the association, the idea spread faster, nowadays the Kolping Society has more than 400,000 members worldwide, in Germany alone 240,000 members.

Kolping was known for (vocational) education with a more or less clearly defined target group until 1945. Although originally a milieu-based professional organization, today is the membership structure completely heterogeneous and the fields of action do not longer solely concentrate on the craftsmanship but are widely spread. Against the background of these massive changes the central question raises of the (unexplored) development of the Kolping Society in Germany after World War II. The aim of the study is to fill this gap. Thereby, the study focuses on the preservation of the ‘historical asset’, on dealing of an organization with its historical heritage within changing social frameworks. Ergo, development will be reflected longitudinally by labor-related association work, other fields and places of action will be disregarded. In doing so, breaks and continuities in the course and positioning of the organization in the working environment, will be identified and analyzed. At the same time the establishing, consolidation and transforming processes of a Christian-social movement will be examined exemplary in the context of Social movement research which has not focused on this segment of movements, yet. Thus, performance of this survey is not only one more additional object in the research of Catholic organizations, but contributes simultaneously to the history of Social movements.

Marion Plötz