The idea for the Christophers began to percolate in the mind of Father James Keller in the 1930’s. He was working as a Maryknoll priest and preparing to go on a mission to Asia (or so he thought), to be actively involved in converting the world to Christ. Diligently working in his fundraising capacity, Father Keller noticed a great need for mission work right where he was in the New York area. He was visiting parishes to raise funds and he noticed that well-meaning, faith filled, decent men and women were asleep in their busy pursuits while a small vocal minority was having their secular humanist viewpoint win over in schools, business, government, and media. Father Keller adapted an ancient Chinese proverb, “It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.” He noted that personal responsibility combined with the willingness to go into the market place of ideas with courage and conviction was all it would take to win the day for light. Light is always stronger than darkness. But for this to be true, we must have the courage to speak up and develop the skill to lead others.
At the end of the Second World War, Father Keller formally began the movement called the Christophers. The word “Christopher” is derived from the Greek word, Christophoros, meaning Christ-bearer. The Christophers would seek to motivate men and women in all walks of life to bring Judeo-Christian principles to bear on the world around them. The Christophers primary mission was to spread the good news through media.
In 1949, Father Keller, founder of the Christophers asked Archbishop Edward Mooney of Detroit to sponsor a “Career Guidance School in the Archdiocese of Detroit so that the principles of the Christophers would find concrete application.
Father Bresnahan, a good friend of Father Keller’s and already a committed Christopher Leader, was approached by some women parishioners. The parishioners were concerned because the labor union leaders were advocating a strong communist position. The women felt the views did not reflect the philosophy of the majority of the rank and file members. But the union leaders were smooth and eloquent and the women lacked the confidence to speak up at the meetings. In response to this request, Father Bresnahan partnered with professional training instructors to develop the first Christopher Leadership Course. He thought this would be a one-time program. The course was so effective and popular, that it soon had a waiting list and spread to other locations. The course was taught entirely by well-trained volunteer instructors, with a deep desire to spread the message, continue to hone their confidence and leadership skills and give others the benefits they had enjoyed from this program.
In mid-1951, it became obvious to Father Bresnahan that there were many people with worthwhile ideas already in vital fields of education, government, business, labor, socials services and science who were not active Christ bearers simply because they lacked the confidence and know-how to take the initiative.
There is no need to go into the history of the different people and organizations involved in spreading this training across the US (in Spanish and English), Canada, Central and South America and Korea. Suffice it to say this was only possible through the great dedication of many Christopher Leaders to whom we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude. What needs to be stressed, however, is the fact that the need for this program is greater than ever. The truth of the Christopher ideal is simple, easy to grasp and the training methodology works as effectively today as when it began. You are part of a network of individuals who refuse to allow the darkness of self-serving and narrow-minded pursuits to blind you to the limitless goodness that is possible when we see the best in one another and work together to bring that light into the world. If not You, Who? As Father Keller constantly reminded his flock, “You CAN change the world!”