National President and Chairperson of International Relations
The provincial councils consisted of numbers ranging from fewer than 300 to more than 41,000 members for a total of more than 75,000 in 1,176 parish councils. Varying numbers of membership and parish councils resulted in numerous opportunities to learn from one another. Response rates for parish council reporting were up in most provincial councils. Nationally, 68% of parish councils submitted an annual report, of which 96% had a sitting president, while 60% had been president more than once. The importance of the League in the spiritual growth of members set the organization apart from all other women’s organizations in Canada and was what kept members engaged. Many parish councils had more senior members; however, many places saw a modicum of relatively younger leadership. One provincial council reported 72% of presidents were 11-25 year members.
The most common method to inform members about the League’s position was through The Canadian League (89%), but also of great assistance were national communiqués and diocesan newsletters, followed by provincial and national websites and parish bulletins. To a lesser extent, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) website, Internet searches, local newspapers and the Catholic Organization for Life and Family, in that order, were used to inform members. The parish priest, other Catholic organizations, minutes, regional meetings and personal telephone conversations were also ways in which parish presidents received information to share with members.
Predominant national priorities taken up by parish councils included the national theme, Care for Our Common Home (86%), medical assistance in dying (69%), and removing the attestation clause in the Canada Summer Jobs Program (52%), the latter two of which were in response to nationally adopted resolutions. Besides these, parish councils actively supported palliative care in their communities, hospice services, rights of the pre-born, establishment of standards for products labelled flushable and the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Human trafficking had become an issue of concern in all provincial councils, and genetics education was researched as it applied to bioethics. Members read and discussed the CCCB document Protecting Minors from Sexual Abuse: A Call to the Catholic Faithful in Canada for Healing, Reconciliation and Transformation, and the Laudato ‘Si encyclical.
The many ways members introduced the aforementioned topics included whole meeting discussion upon reading the documents (95%), program presentations by standing committee chairpersons and speakers whose expertise were in the fields (39% and 30% respectively). Letter-writing sessions during meetings, discussion from a newsletter article and taking part in online surveys were also used. The Pornography Hurts postcard campaign was well used to get the League’s message to federal government. Members were encouraged to and found ways to be more environmentally conscious.
Almost 50% of parish councils reported meeting with the spiritual advisor monthly. A small number met weekly, annually or never. Twenty-seven per cent met rarely. However, 92% reported the spiritual advisor was supportive. Reasons stated for being unable to meet with the spiritual advisor included his duties outside the parish, serving several parishes, a lack of tradition of the spiritual advisor’s interaction with the council formally, distance to travel to meet with parish councils and health issues relating to the advisor. Sixty-six per cent of respondents reported other reasons for not meeting, most of which were connected to a lack of understanding of the League, resulting in a lack of interest by the advisor.
Primary resources used by parish councils were the Constitution & Bylaws (63%), parish council policy manual (59%), Executive Handbook (54%), National Manual of Policy and Procedure (44%), followed by Robert’s Rules of Order and Parliamentary Procedure. Parish councils reported the strong support of immediate past presidents, life members, long-serving members and executive members, and resources such as annual calendars of events and minutes books.
The parish council president was a signing officer for the council. She signed cheques, bank documents, letters directed internally and outside the League, and supported through her signature petitions.
The president represented her parish council within the church and in the broader community. Church functions (91%) were at the top of the list, followed by diocesan meetings and conventions (76%), special masses, fundraising events (58%), sacramental celebrations, regional meetings (50%), community events (48%), workshops and conferences (47%), provincial meetings and conventions (36%). To a lesser extent, she took part in or attended pro-life events, national convention and meetings with her member of the legislature. The obvious importance for the parish council was to support events in the parish, while meetings and events within the region followed closely. Attending provincial and national conventions was an area where more encouragement might be needed if it would result in greater support and engagement of members when they returned to their parish council. Having given the aforementioned percentages, parish councils in very high numbers took part in the annual national initiative “12 Hours of Prayer for Palliative Care” and seasonal programs within their parishes, were faithful in support at funerals and all parish events generally.
Related to members’ attendance at events, conferences and conventions may have been the ability to subsidize costs. The majority of parish councils (72%) did not provide subsidies for attendance at events where costs were incurred; 22% covered the entire costs, while a small number (four per cent and two per cent), paid 50% and 25% of related expenses. To educate, inform and engage members, workshops were developed and provided at the least cost to attendees. Members needed to be fed, spiritually and intellectually; hence, there may have been a need to consider how to support members financially to attend events. Assistance to attend diocesan convention, for example, ranged from 55% to cover all costs to a low of five per cent paying 25% of costs. Parish councils reported less financial support to attend provincial and national conventions at 35% and 15% respectively.
There was a slight division among parish councils with regard to having a policy and procedure manual. Fifty-seven per cent had one; 43% did not. A slight majority of those that did not have a manual indicated it would be helpful to have one and would like assistance to develop it. While most parish councils did not form new policies, many updated existing policies, such as funeral protocols, welcoming ceremonies, pre-paid memberships, awards, bursaries and scholarships, distribution of funds and dates for regularly scheduled events in the parish year.
The resources available to parish councils were well used. The Executive Handbook was used by 86% of parish councils and was noted as very helpful. Those that did not make use of this resource relied on members’ expertise, were familiar enough with duties, did not find the handbook helpful for their parish council or neglected to study the document.
In keeping members informed annually, most parish councils provided a report. More presented the report orally (65%) than in written form (54%), while some e-mailed the report to members (46%). If this were included as part of the written report, it might have raised the percentage, but this was not completely clear from the survey. Close to one-third included a summary of the year’s events in the bulletin or parish newsletter.
Parish councils demonstrated an overwhelming charism of service from the number of committees appointed throughout the year, beyond the formal standing committees. Some of these included annual events, funeral, social events, fundraising, visiting, bursary/scholarship, donations, catering, policy, telephone tree, community outreach, prayer chain, prayer shawl, hospitality, awards and ceremonies for members, church premises and a “courtesy” committee.
To say parish councils were centred in service and advocacy was exemplified by the myriad of times the parish president represented Christian values in the community and beyond. She organized petitions—“Time to Care” was noted as one where increased care to residents in residential homes was initiated. Besides giving a monthly report to council, a summary of the national convention, and updates on the strategic plan, the president spoke on and encouraged support for Catholic Missions In Canada, the homeless, the lonely, an end to human trafficking, medical assistance in dying, income security in Ontario, vocations and Birthright International. She took part and presented at diocesan development days, in the HUG Project centenary initiative and “soles for souls” to assist the needy. She assisted in promoting parish, diocesan and national events, especially the national theme, Indigenous issues, autism and vocations. She encouraged viewing and/or organized viewing of films Fatal Flaws and Unplanned. One parish council reported having sponsored a refugee family.
Parish presidents reported many challenges. Keeping members engaged, not having a full slate of officers, recruitment, paperwork, time to complete all that was required of a president, lack of training or being undertrained, resistance to new ideas, inexperience, technology, delegation of duties, tedium, meeting expectations and lack of attendance at same, and to a lesser degree, public speaking, member conflict, chairing meetings, lack of confidence and organizational skills were noted. Presidents also noted a lack of interest in accessing program funding, encouragement of the use of awards ceremonies and service pin presentations, using online membership renewal service, improving the education of members, engagement of the spiritual advisor and reporting. While most parish councils (83% of respondents) liked having a national theme and logo to focus activities on, there were many variations in the length of time each theme should be in place. Stating the challenges gave an excellent opportunity for education and promotion of the needs of provincial councils.
Given the challenges, one would have expected parish councils would be somewhat discouraged. More than 100 pages of comments submitted describing what they were most proud of belies that. This was where they might learn from each other. What one parish council’s challenge was may have been overcome by a sister council. Some parish councils were proud of their growth in numbers, engagement and attendance at meetings. All parish councils were proud of the way members stepped up to serve in all capacities within the parish and greater community. While there was much work to do regarding the challenges faced, members could be very optimistic that parish councils were willing and able to continue to work towards personal spiritual growth, and to reach out for assistance in the areas where weaknesses were known and expressed.
Provincial presidents took important initiatives within their council to meet members’ needs. These included leadership development, communication including “Find Your Voice” training, and “Mothers of Love and Faith” workshops. Also, a “Warmth and Comfort” project to support a provincial theme of Homelessness demonstrated faith in action. One provincial council began a new provincial theme of Loneliness, and in every provincial council, efforts were made to educate parish councils on the strategic plan.
To pursue the national theme, I chaired regular meetings of the administrative committee by conference call in order to meet more often, shorten the in-person meeting time and save treasury resources. Four national executive/board meetings were held—winter, pre-convention, post-convention and fall. Two parish council mailings were completed and sent, the only time during the year when national officers were able to communicate directly with their sisters at the parish level. The focus for year two of the national theme was determined at the fall meeting, to provide financial assistance to a community home in India (see community life annual report for details). A successful 99th annual national convention was held in Calgary, where the speakers focused on an aspect of caring for creation. Plans continued for the celebration of the League’s centenary with the invitation of presenters for the 100th anniversary convention. Speakers secured were Dr. Cory Labrecque, Dr. Donna Orsuto and Sr. Nuala Kenny.
As The Canadian League, published three times annually, was of such importance to parish councils, the president’s message provided a unique opportunity to speak to all members. Monthly “Adventures with Anne” columns were posted on the website and Facebook and provided another opportunity to interface with members directly.
While challenges understandably faced an organization of such size, it was gratifying to know League sisters were so closely connected and generally positive about the future. The parish presidents themselves said it best in their statements:
Members showed “teamwork, [were] supportive, prayerful, considerate, respectful”. “Councils work[ed] hard to ensure a good balance of spirituality, education, and fun.” [Members] “witness[ed] to the love of God through ministry and service,” and members demonstrated “continued passion and dedication to the core purpose and mission” of the organization. “Members [were] supportive, endearing, kind, helpful, cooperative, and the nicest group of women I could work with.” With these words, members could be optimistic that with the intercession of Our Lady of Good Counsel and the work of the Holy Spirit, The Catholic Women’s League of Canada would continue to be a vital part of the church, Canada, and the world.