The Catholic Women’s League
A short History of the Catholic Women’s League
Margaret Fletcher was born in Oxford on 1862, the daughter of an Anglican clergyman, who with her sisters and brother lived a happy family life.
In the early 1860’s children were taught fortitude: Margaret’s memories of her early days were of cold morning baths (there was no central heating), hard beds and daily walks whatever the weather. This training stood her in good stead in her adult life, when she found herself having to face up to difficulties.
In spite of the tough living, it was an exciting age for women, when educational methods were being improved. Oxford High School, to which Margaret went, was one of the pioneers in this field.
At the age of seventeen Margaret went to the Slade School of Art in Chelsea. She continued her studies in Paris meeting students of other nationalities, which gave her the opportunity to have long discussions with them about life, religion and politics.
These were her first steps in international thinking.
Margaret returned to Oxford to run the family home after the death of her mother, but all the while she had the urge to fight for improved educational opportunities for women.
The Suffrage movement had begun, but she saw many dangers in it. She had always been deeply religious, but could not blindly accept everything she had been taught. An avid reader, Margaret always searched for the Truth.
The turning point came after reading the writings of St John of the Cross, when she decided to become a Catholic. Seeking the advice of a priest friend, she was instructed at the Jesuit church in Farm Street, London and was received into the Church on 9th September 1897.
Returning once again to Oxford, she took an active part in parish work. She became friends with Mary Miller, who had travelled widely in Europe doing research work on Catholic secondary education for girls. She told Margaret about the newly founded Catholic organisation in Germany, brought into being by the German hierarchy as an alternative to the secular National Council of Women. They had many talks together on the subject of education, the outcome of which was that, having obtained permission from Cardinal Bourne, Margaret Fletcher launched a new quarterly called The Crucible.
This was aimed at rousing interest of teachers and schools to get better social education for women. It ran for eight years and in one of its last issues the proposal came for a league of Catholic women. In 1906 a National Conference was held in Brighton, and permission was obtained to distribute leaflets about the proposed league. Later that year a meeting was called in London attended by seventy women and a committee was elected. All were adamant that Margaret Fletcher should be president. Margaret Fletcher insisted that the League needed women with “balanced common-sense” and it should “utilise the average woman in convincing the Catholic world that business-like methods and intellectual gifts are excellent weapons in the service of God”.
The Catholic Women’s League – Bluff Branch
(Abridged from a compilation by Peggy Ellis)
The Catholic Women’s League was established in South Africa in 1931 however, prior to 1951 the Catholic Women’s Organisation existed in nearly every Parish in Durban. They were small bands of women, doing all the usual charitable works of a Parish, but the voice of an organised band of Catholic Women was not heard beyond this.
The Bishops of South Africa were very keen to nationalise all these small branches into something stronger. The league was already established in Cape town and Johannesburg – and if the women of Durban agreed to become members of this league, a National Body could be formed. Durban agreed – and on the 23 August 1951 the Inaugural Meeting of the Catholic Women’s League took place at the Emmanuel Cathedral Presbytery, Durban, chaired by His Grace Archbishop Denis Hurley O.M.I. D.D. – with Fr. Francis Hill O.M.I.
The parish priest of the Bluff, Fr. Frank Duffy O.M.I. was at this meeting, plus delegates from eleven parishes including some from Fynnland and Brighton Beach.
Meanwhile the established branches carried on their good work. Father Noel Coughlan, parish priest at Brighton Beach and organiser of the Marian Congress and producer of Durban’s first Passion Play (both took place in 1952) soon had the Bluff branches involved. Lanterns were made by the Brighton Beach branch for the Candlelight procession of the Marian Congress. A member, Mrs Madeleine Christie’s aunt, Madame Jouffret, was responsible for making the hundreds of costumes used in the Passion Play – hours were spent in the library consulting the Biblical characters costumes, and many members helped with the needlework.
Fr. Duffy encouraged ladies to join the C.W.L. and soon all Fynnland members were involved. Altar duties, buying and arranging flowers, making and washing altar linen, cleaning the church, and fund raising for the Church at Wentworth.
Brighton Beach and Fynnland were two separate parishes, with separate Catholic Women’s League branches. It was decided to amalgamate so as to form one big branch, namely the Bluff C.W.L.
Apart from the many fundraising activities of the C.W.L. they assisted the poor at Wentworth by making soup and serving it to the needy once a week. They also ran the feeding scheme for the African Children attending the mission school, as well as a Christmas party – with gifts for several hundred children. The Kupugani Feeding Scheme and the School Feeding Scheme formed part of our projects.
With all our activities, our Spiritual duties were never neglected. Our meetings were started with Holy Mass and this is still practised today. When we were without a church we started with the recitation of the Rosary, and later continued this in the homes. Hospital visiting was a regular feature – especially Wentworth Hospital where we rendered assistance to the patients by giving them reading material or taking the patients to the chapel for Holy Mass.
The league continues uphold its motto of Charity, Work and Loyalty by being involved in many aspects of Parish life within Parish boundaries and beyond:
• They recondition Christmas cards in aid of parish funds;
• They help at the TB kiosk in the Botanical Gardens once a month in aid of TB funds;
• They prepare and serve teas for ecumenical group of Senior Citizens once a month.
• They hold a monthly cake sale to boost league funds.
• They have assisted with the Mater Vitae home at Wentworth.
• Monthly Meals on Wheels for TAFTA.
• Other charitable works when approached.
So much has happened since that great day in 1951 and the Catholic Women’s league has grown from strength to strength and is a great influence in our society today.
We salute the hundreds of hard working and dedicated women of the Bluff Branch who tackle every task with enthusiasm, good humour, love and caring for one another and love of neighbour. A band of happy, loyal friends who strive to spread their motto: Charity – Work – Loyalty … And have succeeded