More than 900 women attended the national Catholic Women's League convention.


More than 900 women attended the national Catholic Women's League convention.

August 27, 2012

The Catholic Women's League of Canada, in partnership with the Sisters of Service of Toronto, is setting up a $1-million private charitable foundation to train women in leadership in the Church and in society.

As part of their legacy, the Sisters of Service are giving $500,000 to begin the foundation which will train about 24 women a year.

The CWL has vowed to match the sisters' donation. At its 92nd annual national convention in Edmonton, the CWL voted to take $100,000 from its treasury to get the foundation rolling and to raise the remaining $400,000 from donations across Canada.

Outgoing national president Velma Harasen made the announcement at a news conference Aug. 15, just hours before she completed her two-year term.

"We feel there is a real need to speak up for our Christian values and therefore be out there in the community, on school boards, on hospital boards, on parish councils and in society at large," she said.

"This will hopefully help our women be a little more empowered to speak up and feel a bit more confident to do that. So with the blessing of the convention, we will proceed with this charitable foundation."

The CWL has worked in partnership with the Sisters of Service since the 1920s. Today, only 20 Sisters of Service remain in Canada and the youngest is 78.


The congregation was established to help meet the spiritual and social needs of immigrants settling in rural areas of the Canadian Prairies.

"So they are planning for their future when they are no longer with us," said Harasen as she explained why the congregation donated half a million dollars to train women for leadership.

A board of directors will run the foundation, which will be incorporated and therefore able to ask for donations and issue tax receipts, noted president Betty Anne Brown Davidson of Wellington, Ont., who took over the reins of the CWL following the news conference.


"The foundation will be separate from the league and will have a totally separate board," she said. It should be up and running in about a year.

Harasen said the training might be provided in partnership with the Cody Institute at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S., and Newman Theological College in Edmonton. Women chosen for the leadership training will not have to be CWL members.

At the press conference, Harasen spoke about the success of the CWL's theme over her two-year term, Centred on Faith and Justice.

"Our executive chose to focus on women against poverty, and in our first year we achieved many projects across the country at the parish, diocesan and provincial levels, in helping the marginalized in a variety of ways," she said.

The highlight of Harasen's term was a Holy Land project known as Velma's Dream.

With support from CWL members and councils across Canada, the CWL raised more than $20,000 for an infant and youth welfare centre in Old Jerusalem. The goal was $16,500.

Now the league will support a small Christian clinic at Shepherd's Field outside Bethlehem. The goal for this project is $20,000, which Harasen said would not only serve pregnant women and newborn babies, but also preserve jobs for Christians at the clinic.


At the convention, delegates approved a resolution urging the federal government "to strongly enforce the criminalization of the purchase of sexual services." It says prostitution and trafficking for the purposes of the sex trade exist because of a demand from customers.

Background to the resolution says the criminalization of the purchase of sexual services has been proven to significantly reduce prostitution and human trafficking in Sweden.

Also approved was a resolution urging the federal government to provide for an extra 15 weeks of Employment Insurance benefits for adoptive mothers.

Parents of biological and adopted children receive 35 weeks of Employment Insurance benefits, while mothers of biological newborn babies receive an additional 15 weeks of Employment Insurance benefits.

"Mothers of adopted children need the same amount of bonding time with their adopted children as biological mothers with their children," the resolution says.


The convention also approved two motions to send letters to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and leaders of the opposition parties on social justice issues.

One letter opposes the federal government's funding cuts to faith-based development agencies such as Development and Peace; the other expresses concern about continuing poor living conditions on First Nations reserves.

The Aug. 15 closing Mass at St. Joseph's Basilica was offered for the repose of the soul of Father Joseph Christenson, spiritual advisor for the CWL in the Halifax-Yarmouth Archdiocese. Christenson died suddenly while attending the convention.