CWL opened McCarthy up to a much wider world

Rose-Marie McCarthy has been honoured with the Alberta-Mackenzie Catholic Women's League's prestigious Elsie Yanik Award.


Rose-Marie McCarthy has been honoured with the Alberta-Mackenzie Catholic Women's League's prestigious Elsie Yanik Award.

June 13, 2016

Rose-Marie McCarthy lived a sheltered life until she joined the Catholic Women's League.

Growing up near Edmonton's St. Alphonsus Church and attending St. Joseph's High School in the 1950s, all her friends were Catholic, and she was blissfully unaware of the social problems that existed around her.

"I had absolutely no idea what went on in the city," McCarthy said in an interview, hours before being presented with the Elsie Yanik Award June 4 for outstanding service to the league and the community.

"I didn't even know there was a prison just down the way from us."

It was only when she joined the CWL and heard speakers at its meetings talking about poverty and homelessness that she had any idea of the underside of city life.

"I was shocked," she said. "I thought, 'For crying out loud, we can do something about this.'"

So McCarthy started doing. And doing and doing. The first stop was as secretary for WIN House, a shelter for abused women. "In those days, I was one of the few who could type," she said. She became a handy recruit for boards in need of a secretary.

It also led to her involvement with other organizations - WINGS (Women In Need Growing Stronger), KARA (Kids Are the Responsibility of us All), the Alberta Council of Women's Shelters and the Alberta Family Institute.

The league helped to start the Edmonton food bank and the women's overnight emergency shelter. Through that community involvement, she became friends with women who were Protestant or Jewish.

"It was all an awakening for me and got me out of my little world."

She became more deeply involved in the CWL too, serving as provincial president from 1983 to 1985.

During her term, Pope John Paul II came to Edmonton, and McCarthy added the task of overseeing the papal banner project. CWL women made 2,000 banners to line the pope's route to the Mass at Namao.

"The papal visit - that was a highlight. It was unbelievable," she recalls.

With her term as provincial president over, McCarthy did not walk into the sunset. She helped organize CWL fieldworkers in the archdiocese to mentor members of parish councils in the fine points of running a council.

McCarthy was part of a CWL group that gave workshops on different styles of spirituality. "People came up to us afterwards and said, 'I always thought that I was different. Now I know that I am, I need to celebrate it.'

"You would see women and some would be crying and saying, 'I thought there was something wrong with me.'"

As well, she led the way in compiling an archdiocesan CWL history book and archive. More recently, she spearheaded the production of a pictorial history of the league in the archdiocese.

Along the way, she brought other women with her.

Current provincial president Cathy Bouchard of Red Deer recalls how when she was a young mother at home with four children in Yellowknife, McCarthy encouraged her to continue her work with the league and then later helped nominate her to the archdiocesan executive.

"She really encouraged me to take on leadership," Bouchard said.

McCarthy, now 78, said all her volunteer work forced her husband Ron to take on more of the housework and to play a large role in raising their two children.

She credits her community involvement with nurturing their children's independence. "I think it was because Mom wasn't there all the time."


But the biggest benefit of her CWL involvement was becoming open to a wider world. She travelled to conventions across Canada and said she has likely visited every town in the Edmonton Archdiocese.

"If it hadn't been for the CWL, none of it would ever have happened."