The interwar years have been characterized as a “watershed” in the history of
French Catholicism,1 and it is not hard to see why. The Church had experienced
the first decades of the Third Republic as a time of trial and persecution.
World War I, however, gave believers reason to look forward to a brighter
future. The republican establishment had welcomed the political representatives
of Catholic opinion into the Union sacrée. The distress of soldiers and war
widows had nourished a revival of popular faith.2 With the return of peace,
the Catholic laity plunged into an associational activism of unprecedented
proportions. The vaulting edifice of voluntary bodies they constructed reenergized
the faith and at the same articulated a Catholic countervision of the
proper constitution of la cité.