Parishes | Schools | Priests | Masses |
More in this section MAIN MENU

50 years and counting

Florida Council of Catholic Women reveal strengths in constant service

Spiritual moderators of diocesan councils of Catholic Women stand with affiliate presidents and national affiliate past presidents.

Photographer: COURTESY

Spiritual moderators of diocesan councils of Catholic Women stand with affiliate presidents and national affiliate past presidents.

Laura Dodson

Florida Catholic correspondent

ORLANDO | When Hurricane Michael made landfall in early October 2018, it caused the Florida Council of Catholic Women to reschedule its biennial meeting in celebration of the province’s 50th anniversary.

What the storm did not do was daunt the spirits and true grit of the council, which spurred into action to help those hit hard in Florida’s Panhandle.

“We feel the suffering of one another,” said Jean Bazley, Florida council president. “We serve to make it better for those who hurt. It’s what we do. We reach out when needed – not just when it’s convenient.”

The council’s biennial convention was scheduled Oct. 11-14 in Tallahassee. But the hotel was needed as shelter for the many compelled to evacuate the devastating destruction of the storm. The event was cancelled, and those members registered for the event were given the opportunity to donate some or all of their registration cost to Catholic Charities of North West Florida to aid in the relief of those impacted by the storm. As a result, a check for $9,000 from the Florida Council of Catholic Women was presented to Catholic Charities.

The Florida council’s 50th anniversary as a member of the National Council of Catholic Women was finally celebrated at the Sheraton Hotel North in Orlando Feb. 8. Some 125 women, all seven diocesan presidents, several spiritual advisors and three past presidents of national council gathered to remember and celebrate 50 years of “Serving One Another Through Love.”

Josephine Gilbert, past president of the Miami Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women, receives the Our Lady of Good Counsel Award at the 2018 Florida Council of Catholic Women's annual convention, held in February in Orlando. The event was postponed by the passage of Hurricane Michael.

Photographer: COURTESY

Josephine Gilbert, past president of the Miami Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women, receives the Our Lady of Good Counsel Award at the 2018 Florida Council of Catholic Women's annual convention, held in February in Orlando. The event was postponed by the passage of Hurricane Michael.

Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski sent his greetings and congratulations.

“The (Florida Council of Catholic Women) has supported the bishops and priorities of the Church in the public square on wide-ranging issues from the protection and dignity of all human life, parental rights to choose a Catholic education for their children, immigration reform, human trafficking and much more,” Archbishop Wenski told the Florida Catholic. “Through their efforts – including their participation in Catholic Days at the Capitol – they have moved the needle towards justice in our state.”

 

BISHOPS' PRIORITIES 

All seven of the dioceses’ Councils of Catholic Women participate in supporting the many priorities of the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops but each of the presidents selected one of the initiatives to present.

“The Diocese of Palm Beach focuses its efforts on the protection and dignity of all human life,” said Tammy Farr, president of the Palm Beach diocesan council. “We have many programs we use to work with our youth groups to teach them that life begins in the womb and continues throughout life. We participate in 40 Days for Life throughout the diocese. We also hold prayer services in front of Planned Parenthood facilities.”

Catholic education is a priority of the bishops and in the Diocese of Orlando, its councils have supported this effort by volunteering in the schools, providing much needed financial assistance and lobbying legislators.

“All parents should have the right to choose a Catholic education for their children,” said Kathy Leigh, president of the Orlando Diocese council. “Our schools were founded and teach our Catholic moral values. We strive to teach children about our faith and how to live it by following Jesus. This has been a major endeavor and success of our Florida bishops and all parents now have the right to choose the best environment to serve the needs to educate their child.”

 

CHILDREN AND HUMAN TRAFFICKING

Children Matter is a program to provide desperately needed clothing to agencies assisting children in distress. Lisa Shelly, president of the Miami Council of Catholic Women, explained how, in 1998, Diane Tugander, immediate past president of the Florida council, brought the cardboard doll campaign home from the national convention and the women have been participating ever since.

On display at the Miami Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women's 2017 convention were dozens of children's clothes which had been donated for needy children.

Photographer: JONATHAN MARTINEZ |FC

On display at the Miami Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women's 2017 convention were dozens of children's clothes which had been donated for needy children.

“We dress toddler-size cardboard dolls in full outfits including shoes and undies and display them to bring awareness of the needs,” Shelly said. “At one of our conventions, we stood them around the hotel and our spiritual advisor, Msgr. Andrew Anderson, received several hundreds of dollars in donations from hotel guests who were touched by the dolls. We do this campaign to this day, averaging 200 outfits each year and have collected approximately 4,500 outfits worth $150,000.”

Agriculture and tourism are predominant Florida industries which hire significant numbers of low-paid workers – many of them immigrants.

“There are three prongs to the efforts for immigration reform by the Venice Diocese Council of Catholic Women,” said Brenda Dolan, president. “We work with the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops in promoting immigration reform; we communicate the Catholic position on reform to state and local representatives as well as educating our own people; and we work in the ‘shadows’ with immigrants to assist them in bettering their status.”

Mary Woltman, president of the St. Petersburg Diocese Council of Catholic Women, highlighted their work to address the horrific effects of human trafficking through support of the Bridging Freedom initiative.

“Its mission is to ‘combat minor sex trafficking by bringing restoration to those rescued and victim prevention to those they reach through their message,’” Woltman said. “In addition to providing donations, the CCW supports the agency whenever they request assistance. It is now building the second rehabilitation home to protect the rescued and we are supporting their efforts.”

 

DAYS AT THE CAPITOL

Every year, Catholics from throughout the state travel to Tallahassee to participate in Catholic Days at the Capitol. It is an opportunity for the faithful to call upon the legislators to protect and defend the dignity of human life and to promote the common good for all people. This year’s event is March 26-27.

“Our (councils) give scholarships to our two Catholic high schools to send students to (Catholic Days at the Capitol) each year,” said Staci Duncan, president of the St. Augustine Council of Catholic Women. “The students participate in meeting our legislators and hearing the talks at the bishops’ luncheon. It is our desire for these students to be inspired and to realize that their voices and concerns are heard and that we can make a difference.”

Advocating for issues as they pertain to Catholic faith and values is also a major focus for the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee. Mary Sauvageau, president of the Panhandle diocese’s council, said councils and their affiliation presidents were challenged to budget funds to sponsor a member who had never attended Catholic Days.

“Once you go to (Catholic Days at the Capitol) and see the impact your voice and presence have – you will want to continue going in the future,” Sauvageau said. “Our spiritual advisor, Father Richard Dawson, had red scarves made for the ladies to wear to show the legislators that there are Catholic women ‘in the House.’”

A little-known fact is that by virtue of baptism, all Catholic women are members of the Council of Catholic Women. Individually and collectively, working together with the bishops, the world is transformed by their service in love.

HISTORY OF AFFILIATION

The women of Florida have been an integral part of the Council of Catholic Women since its inception as a national organization by U.S. bishops in March 1920. The National Council of Catholic Women was formed to “unite Catholic women in all useful fields of education, social, religious and economic work for the betterment of the people.”

With four dioceses formed: St. Augustine (1870), Miami (1958), St. Petersburg and Orlando (both in 1968), Florida affiliated with national council as the Province of Miami Dec. 2, 1968. The Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee was formed in 1975, Venice Diocese and the Diocese of Palm Beach both followed in 1984, bringing the Province to its current seven dioceses.

In its 50 years, the Florida council has been blessed with four national council presidents: Winkie LeFils 1979-1981; Ellen Bachman 2007-2009; Judy Powers 2011-2013, and Sheila Snow Hopkins 2015-2017.

“The Council of Catholic Women takes to heart the Gospel message that whatever you do for the least of my brethren, you do for me,” said Hopkins, who in addition to serving at all levels of Council in her 43 years as a member, also worked for the Florida Catholic Conference of Bishops for 12 years. “Taking the lead from our bishops on what issues are most important at any given time, we find a way to meet the needs, physically, financially, emotionally and spiritually. When we see the homeless, the sick, or anyone suffering in this world, we respond with compassion as Jesus did when he was moved by the afflicted he encountered.”


Latest News

Breaking News

Feature News

Parish News

School News

Columns

Homilies