Catholic student movements in Latin America: Cuba and Brazil, 1920s to 1960s

Joseph Holbrook, Florida International University


This dissertation examines the ideological development of the Catholic University Student (JUC) movements in Cuba and Brazil during the Cold War and their organizational predecessors and intellectual influences in interwar Europe. Transnational Catholicism prioritized the attempt to influence youth and in particular, university students, within the context of Catholic nations within Atlantic civilization in the middle of the twentieth century. This dissertation argues that the Catholic university movements achieved a relatively high level of social and political influence in a number of countries in Latin America and that the experience of the Catholic student activists led them to experience ideological conflict and in some cases, rupture, with the conservative ideology of the Catholic hierarchy. Catholic student movements flourished after World War II in the context of an emerging youth culture. The proliferation of student organizations became part of the ideological battlefield of the Cold War. Catholic university students also played key roles in the Cuban Revolution (1957-1959) and in the attempted political and social reforms in Brazil under President João Goulart (1961-1964). The JUC, under the guidance of the Church hierarchy, attempted to avoid aligning itself with either ideological camp in the Cold War, but rather to chart a Third Way between materialistic capitalism and atheistic socialism. Thousands of students in over 70 nations were intensively trained to think critically about pressing social issues. This paper will to place the Catholic Student movement in Cuba in the larger context of transnational Catholic university movements using archival evidence, newspaper accounts and secondary sources. Despite the hierarchy's attempt to utilize students as a tool of influence, the actual lived experience of students equipped them to think critically about social issues, and helped lay a foundation for the progressive student politics of the late 1960s and the rise of liberation theology in the 1970s.

Subject Area

Religious history|Latin American history

Recommended Citation

Holbrook, Joseph, "Catholic student movements in Latin America: Cuba and Brazil, 1920s to 1960s" (2013). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3608718.