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Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

The Catholic Women’s League of Victoria and Wagga Wagga was founded 100 years ago and since then, its members have played a dynamic role on the local, national and international stage. Branches of the League opened in the Archdiocese of Melbourne in 1916, the Ballarat Diocese in 1917, the Sandhurst Diocese in 1925 and the Sale Diocese in 1926. At the invitation of Most Rev F. Henschke, Bishop of Wagga Wagga, branches of the League opened in that Diocese in 1947.

In July 1916, in the midst of World War I, a small group of visionary young women were given the impetus by Father William Lockington S.J. to form an organisation of lay Catholic women to create a more just society and bring Catholic principles to bear upon legislative and administrative bodies. On 1st October 1916, more than 2000 women attended the first meeting of the Catholic Women’s Social Guild, as it was then known.

The League’s first Committee included ground-breaking professional women such as Dr Eileen FitzGerald, who later became the Chief Medical Officer for the Education Department of Victoria; Anna Brennan, the first Victorian-born women admitted into legal practice; Maud O’Connell, a committed trade unionist and social worker who later founded the Company of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament (known as the Grey Sisters); Julia Flynn, who later became Chief Inspector of Victorian Secondary Schools; K. Coffey, R. McNamara, E. Mantach, Gertrude Opie, M. Larkin and E.J. Murphy. The inaugural President of the League was a gifted and visionary young doctor called Mary Glowrey who later, as Sister Mary of the Sacred Heart JMJ, placed her life at the service of the medical and spiritual needs of the people of India.

Archbishop Carr was a firm friend to this new ecclesiastical movement. He placed at their disposal a large meeting room at the Cathedral Hall in Brunswick St, Fitzroy.

Wanting to have a voice in safeguarding the interests of women and children, the League secured representation on many public bodies including the Relief Committees, the World Disarmament Committee and the State Royal Commission on Children’s Welfare. League members were also appointed as Probation Officers and Magistrates in the Children’s Court. The fledgling League also lobbied for improved working conditions for women, set up soup kitchens to feed striking workers and their families, established a seaside rest home called Santa Casa for children and ran a hostel for young women workers from the country.

A Nurses Branch of the League was also formed in 1916 as was a Pupil Nurses Association so that nurses in training in the various hospitals could keep in touch with each other. All questions of interest to nurses came within the scope of the Nurses Branch particularly the Catholic principles underlying their work.

Many of the special works begun by Dr Mary Glowrey and her colleagues continue to this day. The League’s motto, ‘She has put our her hands to strong things’, from the Book of Proverbs was first proposed by Mary Glowrey during a retreat at the Sacred Heart Convent in Malvern. This motto links the spirit of our founding women, to our present and into the future.

The Catholic Women’s League is a work of faith, an expression of the concrete love of God for all human persons. The members of the League move always, and unashamedly, from a foundation of prayer. It is prayer that empowers the League members in their attempts to be bearers of life, hope and dignity to others, and it is prayer that has enabled these attempts to continue to bear such abundant good fruit in the lives of so many.

The deep friendships, forged in times of both joy and sorrow, enable League members to confidently face the challenges of tomorrow together.

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