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League History

The Catholic Women’s League of Canada was organized nationally on June 17, 1920 and granted federal incorporation on December 12, 1923.

The League is officially recognized by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) as a lay association of women and is affiliated with the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organisations (WUCWO), a worldwide federation holding membership in the conference of International Catholic Organizations (ICO) and having consultative status with agencies of the United Nations.

First National President Bellelle Guerin

The Guerin family crest dates back to France in the 700s A.D., with members of the family immigrating to Ireland in the 17th century and Thomas Guerin coming to Canada, where he founded the Canadian branch of the family. His eldest daughter, Mary Ellen Guerin, was born in Montreal on September 24, 1849.

She was educated at the Mount St. Mary Convent of the Congregation of Notre Dame, where she became renowned throughout Canada as a writer and poet of distinction. It was during this time that she adopted the name of Bellelle Guerin.

Bellelle never married but assisted her brother, widower Dr. James Guerin in raising his two children and served as Lady Mayoress when James became the mayor of Montreal in 1910.

By 1917 Bellelle became president of the Catholic Women’s Club, formerly the Loyola Club.

By 1920 the Montreal branch grew to 440 members and by June, at Bellelle’s instigation, a meeting was called to unify the branches of the CWL. She was elected the first president of The Catholic Women’s League of Canada.

The following year at the first national convention, held in Toronto, Ontario, she expressed her belief in the future of the organization. “we may be said to be laying the cornerstone of an edifice that will arise fair and beautiful, strong and proud before the eyes of the world.”

Bellelle’s role in the League was recognized in 1922 at a meeting of the International Union of Catholic Women’s Leagues in Rome, where she became the first woman in Canada to receive the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice medal. She said, “I hold the honour as belonging to every individual member of the Catholic Women’s League of Canada.”

Mary Ellen (Bellelle) Guerin died in 1929 and is buried in Cote-des-Neiges Cemetary.

The Bellelle Guerin award and pin started in 2007. The motion creating the award and pin was adopted at the annual pre-convention meeting in August of that year.