Audrey Pineau, left, one of St. Anthony’s Parish CWL Council’s longest serving members, with one of its newest members, Joanie Chislett. Photo by Rita Arsenault

Editorial: CWL: faith in action

  • June 24, 2021

A century ago this month, on June 1, 1921, about 400 women from across Canada gathered at Columbus Hall in Toronto for the first national convention of the Catholic Women’s League. The First World War had ended just two and a half years earlier. Arthur Meighen was prime minister, George V was still on the throne and Canada — 8.7-million strong — was a month away from its 54th birthday.

On the first evening of the five-day convention, CWL president Bellelle Guerin read a message of welcome from Pope Benedict XV, and then spelled out why they were there.

“During the past few years there has been a movement all over the world to concentrate feminine energy, and Catholic women cannot escape from the call of the century,” said Guerin, as quoted in The Catholic Register of the day. “We must not isolate ourselves, but exercise the part assigned to us by Providence. It is time for us to arouse ourselves from torpor and easy indifference, and by word and deed assist in lifting this poor old war-torn world by doing what comes to our hand.”

They did, as have the generations of Catholic women who followed them, and for that the League is to be celebrated and congratulated. “For God and Canada” is the motto, which has captured it well, inviting service to the community and the Church, actively looking to make a difference in people’s lives and keeping social justice issues on the front burner.

The League was actually born in 1906 in England. The Canadian version began with a chapter in Edmonton in 1912, then was established as a national organization in 1920. From the very beginning, it set its sights on securing, as Guerin said, a “position of influence that is accorded to numbers” and using it for the betterment of “Catholic education, the betterment of Catholic social action and racial harmony among Catholics.” A century later, those goals remain as relevant as ever.

As for numbers, yes, there have been peaks and valleys and a persistent drive to recruit younger members, but with over 75,000 members in about 1,200 parishes, there is no denying it is a powerful voice for whatever task it undertakes. Every year, the League prepares resolutions on the issues of most concern, then uses whatever social and political means it can to make a difference, whether it’s a letter-writing campaign, a fundraiser or a meeting with politicians. Assisted suicide, palliative care, refugees, abortion, child poverty and enhancing the role of women in the Church are just some of the issues where the members have put advocacy to work in recent years.

At the same time, the League is in the midst of a five-year renewal plan, keeping pace with change and securing its future growth. It’s never an easy path for a long-established organization, but the CWL has never shied away from a challenge.

Underscoring all the work, of course, is the “chance to live your faith with those who share it,” as the League says. It has been a true sisterhood that puts Catholicism into action. That kind of idea can never grow old.

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