13th November 1882. This day Joseph Cardijn later Joseph Cardinal Cardijn the eldest son of Henri Cardijn and Louise van Daelen, was born at Schaerbeek, a district of Brussels. His parents were employees of small block of flats.
His Father who could neither read nor write but was a man of high principle and deep religious conviction later took up a coal merchant’s business – a very modest affair, which gave to the family a relative degree of prosperity and independence. The Childhood and adolescence of Joseph Cardijn were spent in a typical Christian home of Flanders were children were brought up strictly. Joseph began his education at the elementary school with working-class boys of the little town while the Industrial development was making an impact in Flanders.
When Joseph was about to leave school his parents naturally thought of placing him in a factory, but the lad had other ambitions. This is how he has told the story of his vocation:
“It was the eve of my entry into the factory. I went up to the bedroom with my brothers and sisters. When they were all in bed, I crept down barefoot to the kitchen, where my father and mother, in spite of the late hour, were talking by the fireside.
“ ‘Father’, said I, ‘there’s I want to ask you. Please let me continue my studies!’
“ ‘But you know well enough’, answered my father, ‘that you are the eldest, and that we rely on you to help us in bringing up your brothers and sisters’.
“But I insisted: ‘Dad, I’ve felt within me a call from God. I want to be a priest.’
‘I saw two great tears roll down my father’s cheeks, and mother became whiter than the kitchen wall. At last my father said to my mother:
“‘Woman, we have already worked hard, but to have that joy, we shall work harder still.’”
And so Joseph Cardijn was sent to continue his studies at the college of Notre Dame de Hal. In September 1903, he entered the Malines Seminary, and one day a message arrived that his father was dying;
“I left at once, and on entering the room where my poor father lay dying, I knelt beside him and received his blessing from his old, wrinkled hands, worn by ceaseless toil. Before that man who was so valiant, so great, I swore to give myself entirely to die for the working class.”