HISTORY OF THE CATHOLIC WOMEN’S LEAGUE OF CANADA
OF ST. AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY PARISH
In May of 1921 the St. Augustine’s CWL was issued a Certificate of Organization from The Catholic Women’s League of Canada. The Catholic Women’s League of Canada was formed in response to the Government of Canada’s Board of Women. This board was created after WWI but contained no Catholic Women. There was a protest raised, and the government said they would like to have Catholic women on the board, and asked for names of women from a national Catholic women’s organization. No national Women’s organization existed so The Catholic Women’s League of Canada was created.
The first President of St. Augustine’s CWL was Mrs. E. J. (Katherine) Barclay. Membership fees were set at $1 a year. Meetings were held the first Friday of each month. Mrs. Barclay was the widow of Mr. E. James Barclay. She was known for her many charitable works both in the church and in the community.
The St. Augustine’s CWL is the oldest Council in the Winnipeg Archdiocese. This almost didn’t happen. The early CWL Council had a rival in the St. Augustine’s Parish. The Ladies of St. Anne was organized on January 17, 1909. Its object was to aid the church, to prepare the bazaars and to conduct monthly socials. They also visited the sick and shut-ins of the Parish and saw to the upkeep of the Catholic Cemetery. In 1921 along comes the Catholic Women’s League, part of a National Association and mandated to perform many of the same services that the Ladies of St. Anne were already providing. Many parishioners felt that the CWL was being forced on them. The rivalry reached its climax in 1931 when the CWL failed to register due to the drop in membership. Archbishop Sinnott heard about this, and contacted Fr. Lynch, strongly advising that the CWL reorganize. In May 1931 they reorganized and the Ladies of St. Anne became the St. Anne Subdivision of the CWL. By 1936, records show the St. Anne subdivision was working loyally to uphold the principles of The Catholic Women’s League and be of service to God and Country.
During World War II the ladies of the CWL at St. Augustine sewed for the Red Cross, held raffles for “our boys in the Forces” and donated money to the Government War Fund. They also continued their regular fund raising efforts to support the Parish. They had turkey suppers, spring teas, fall bazaars and summer garden parties. They continued their visits to the sick and shut-in’s of the Parish.
After World War II ended in 1945 there was an influx of new families. The “Baby Boom” had begun. The young wives busy with their families needed a place where they could meet others. It was decided to form a new group in St. Augustine’s Parish. The Young Wives Association was formed and met twice a month for fun and socialization. They had 30 to 35 members at each meeting. Friendships developed and flourished. This group was not a substitute for the CWL. These women became active CWL members and because of them the CWL flourished. During the 1950’s and 60’s St. Augustine’s CWL Council became the fastest growing and most active Council in the Province of Manitoba.
Did the ladies of St. Augustine’s make the right decision in 1921?
Today the Catholic Women’s League is an organization of women who are listened to by all levels of Government. Resolutions prepared at the Provincial and Federal levels are presented to the Governments by representatives of the CWL. This is a unique privilege enjoyed by few women’s groups. Over the years many women from St. Augustine’s have served on the executive of the diocesan, provincial and national CWL Councils. At the present time Carol MacKenzie-Gruber is a member of the Diocesan Council and Albertine Moran is on the Provincial Council. We have 4 Life Members: Dolores Blanchard, Bea Gross, Suzanne Kiazyk, and Albertine Moran. These women are members of the National Council who have served as president at the local, diocesan and/or provincial level. Becoming a Life Member is a call to further service, not a reward for long term service. We also have two Bellelle Guerin award recipients: Jacqueline DeCorby and Yvonne Lewandoski. 90 plus years of commitment to the service of the church is proof that the St. Augustine’s women made the right decision. Today the St. Augustine’s CWL is a body of women, 122 strong, working to better the lives of the people at St. Augustine’s, in Brandon, in Manitoba and in Canada.