September 14, 2015

VANCOUVER - Rosemary Azu is hard to miss in a crowd. She has a natural presence that draws people to her. As well, she usually dresses in bright traditional Nigerian dresses.

Her natural confidence has helped her build a successful mortgage and real estate business, and raise three sons.

But Azu's face lights up when she talks about the women of her parish and her Catholic Women's League council. "Catholic women are gifted, and we have to be proud of that," she says.

Yet, she almost did not join the CWL, and others had to convince her to assume more responsibility.

Azu moved to Coquitlam, B.C., in 1993, and when she heard an announcement about a CWL meeting, she decided to attend.

"I showed up at the announced time and had to knock on the door. They opened the door, let me in and continued with the meeting," Azu recalls. She sat at the back of the room for two hours listening to the members, "all of whom were over 80 years old."

After the meeting, "No one asked me why I was there. No one talked to me. I left that meeting and never went back."

Time passed. Azu learned, based on where she lived, she should have been attending All Saints Parish in Coquitlam. When she made the move, things changed.

Azu made friends and became active in the parish. Then, one friend invited her to join the CWL. "But after that first experience at my previous parish I said 'No way, not for me.'"

However, Azu's father was visiting at the time, and he encouraged her to try again. He also relayed the story to Azu's mother in Nigeria. Azu's mother urged her to get involved.

So she joined the CWL and participated as much as she could. At the time she had three young sons, worked full time and was planning to start a business.

In 2006, while her mother was visiting, a friend asked her to let her name stand in the CWL council election. Azu hesitated but her mother urged her to "be more involved with the women."

A week later Azu was elected council treasurer. She went on to serve four years in the post, followed by a two-year term as Christian life chair. "Then I decided I was going to sit on the backbench for a while," she said.

That was not to be. Next, she was asked to stand for organizational chair. She agreed and was elected. Two years later, she became the council president.

Azu's mother was overjoyed. But all Azu could think was "I have two full-time jobs; I have no time."


Azu's mother convinced her to accept the responsibility. "My mom told me 'There is something these women see in you that you don't see yourself.'

"I thought I was not ready, and it is true I was not. But you can't be ready because God makes you ready," Azu said.

During Azu's time on the executive, membership has grown. In the last three years the council has gone from 163 to 175 members.

In part, it may be because "I love to talk to people," says Azu.

Of course, a woman cannot lead alone, nor can she lead a group that has meetings but no projects.

"There are three past presidents in our council, and I rely on them for support and advice. When I need help it is always there."

Azu's council collects clothing, food and money for the St. Vincent de Paul Society which supports people in need. The council also gives bursaries to two students each year. As well, the council provides hospitality after Sunday Masses.

Although Azu says some times she still does not know how she can balance the demands of her business, family and the CWL, she would not have it any other way.

"I tell women don't be afraid to make your voice heard. You can't make a difference watching from the corner," she said.