1920-2020 – Catholic Women’s League is 100 Years Old!
By Connie McGrath, Diocesan CWL Communications Chair
Katherine Hughes of Edmonton was a “renowned journalist, teacher, public servant, author, and Catholic social activist on behalf of immigrant women and native families.” When she was in England in 1911, she became aware of a charitable group of women called Catholic Women’s League, which Margaret Fletcher had founded in 1906.
Upon her return to Edmonton, with Bishop Legal’s blessing, in 1912 she founded the Catholic Women’s League of Edmonton. The aim was to support immigrant women seeking work and lodging during Edmonton’s financial boom. Those first CWL members met every train arriving in Edmonton to welcome and support newcomers. One of the first social service agencies in Alberta was established by CWL members who looked beyond their own needs in order to serve others.
News of this successful endeavor eventually spread across Canada. Independent CWL branches were copied in major cities: Montreal in 1917; Toronto in 1918; Halifax in 1919; and then Ottawa. In 1920 these groups met in Montreal to try to establish a national group of Catholic women. On June 17, 1920 Bellelle Guerin of Montreal became the first national president.
Before it was cancelled because of COVID-19 restrictions, the 2020 annual convention of the Catholic Women’s League (CWL) was set to honour the 100th anniversary of that first meeting in 1920.
The first CWL convention was in Toronto in 1921 when they produced a constitution, a set of bylaws and the beginnings of The Canadian League magazine, which is still produced three times a year. For God and Canada was the motto chosen in 1921.
In 1923, Our Lady of Good Counsel was adopted as the League’s patroness.
In 1947, to better supervise League activities, councils were set at parish, diocesan and provincial levels. Each council administers its own affairs, and sends a representative to the council at the next level. There is a hierarchy of structure to share responsibility and to disseminate information to all members.
National, provincial and diocesan councils are financed through per-capita fees from the parish level. There are 11 provincial councils – 10 councils including territories, and 1 Military Ordinariate. There are 34 diocesan CWL councils across Canada. Membership in provinces includes 43,194 in Ontario, 6,326 in Saskatchewan, and 859 in Quebec.
The driving force of CWL has always been the spiritual development of members while working together. Standing committees provide the opportunity to deepen Catholic values and address social issues, and include: Spiritual Development, Christian Family Life, Community Life, Education and Health.
Many resolutions are passed and presented to governments annually. See the full list at cwl.ca (To Act On /Resolutions). These are but a few of the issues addressed by resolutions: End Trafficking Children; Employment Insurance Benefits for Cancer Patients; Violence on Television; Over-Medication of the Elderly; Anti-Bullying Programs; Protection of the Pre-born Child.
Looking forward to the next 100 years, the national CWL council has devised a five-year strategic plan to revamp and revitalize the organization. Members from across Canada have joined committees to share ideas, make suggestions, and plan the future. The eight standing committees (and 35 subcommittees) are being merged into three strong foundational pillars: Faith, Service, and Social Justice. Councils are free to prioritize, but are encouraged to be as active as time and energy allow.
CWL, the largest women’s organization in Canada and we dare say, the best, has something to offer every Catholic woman.
Buying a membership unites faith-filled women with the resolve to make the world a better place through prayers, fellowship, service, friendship, strong leadership, and spiritual fulfillment. Catholic women become the heart and hands of Jesus Christ as is evident at cwl.ca (To Inform/On the Spot). The benefits of the CWL are eternal!