Celebrating 100 years of women’s progress

Susan Dickson progress

Throughout New Zealand there have been celebrations of the progress women have made since women gained the vote one hundred years ago.

These celebrations have muted somewhat by the knowledge that there is still a long way to go before there is true equality so the work must continue.

Susan Dickson, Catholic Women’s League National President asks “Are we there yet?”

Kate Sheppard and Margaret Fletcher, CWL founder, have much in common. First and foremost, they were both woman of faith. Women who believed in and who lived the gospel values.

  • They were passionate about equality for women, leaders in the suffrage movement.
  • They believed in improving the lives of women and their families through access to education.
  • They wanted social change to support vulnerable women and children.
  • They wanted a Christian voice on women’s issues. Most importantly both Kate and Margaret were agents for change.
  • They campaigned for and sought change.
  • They urged their followers to live their faith.
  • They acted.

If these women were to visit us today to conduct an audit what would they find?

Would they be happy with the progress made towards equality over the past 125 years?

Much to be proud of

Kate Sheppard and Margaret Fletcher would congratulate us on all the welfare work CWL has done over the years, our

  • At Home Appeals,
  • Missions in the Pacific and at home,
  • support of the Church,
  • support of women,
  • lobbying of governments on social issues and more.

But, I believe they would both be dismayed to see that many of the issues that were most dear to them are still major concerns for us in 2018.

Both Kate Sheppard and Margaret Fletcher were concerned by the negative effects of alcohol abuse on individuals and the family.

They would be deeply saddened to see that drug, alcohol and gambling addictions rank as one of the most devastating social ills in current NZ society.

The effect on children of the “P epidemic” is heart breaking. The long-term effects on our society hardly bare thinking about.

  • How would they feel confronted with the staggering level of domestic violence and intimate partner violence within NZ?
  • Families sleeping in cars? Families doubling-up and tripling up to share substandard rental properties?
  • Workers struggling to live on a minimum wage that is less than a living wage?
  • Women dominating the ranks of the lowest paid sectors?
  • Pacifika women dominating the lowest paid and most menial sectors of the workforce?
  • Families needing two and three jobs to generate enough income to meet their basic living costs?
  • Long waiting lists for health care?
  • The hundreds of families and individuals who daily rely on food banks?
  • Charities across the country providing school lunches?

The list could fill the page.

What might Kate and Margaret include in their report as recommendations

They would be telling us to act.

Not to accept the current situation as too hard and someone else’s problem.

According to the gospel we are our sister’s keeper.

Many of us already actively support charities that work to help the vulnerable. See if you can recruit another person to do likewise.

Remember engaging in the discussion and raising the profile of organisations is as much social action as joining a protest march or knitting beanies.

There are a range of things we can do. A challenge: I am asking each branch to

  • find a member or someone from your parish to visit your local MP, or MPs. This visiting is often easier done in pairs. MPs need to hear from us what it is that we are concerned about and what actions we want them to take.
  • As a branch, brainstorm the issues that most concern you.
  • In 125 Years of Suffrage year, look for something that concerns women.
  • Go prepared with a written statement of what you wish to speak to them about.
  • Concentrate on just one issue. It could be the need for the minimum wage to be linked to a living wage, quality social housing, why we are afraid of the consequences of euthanasia…
  • Have an action request.
  • Something concrete you want the MP to do and ask them to report back.
  • Ask them to speak to the relevant Minister on your issue, explain their party’s policy, find out information for you.
  • Finally, report to your diocesan president. Who did you go to see?  What did you talk about? What was the outcome? The other members of CWL want to hear what you are doing.

Over the past 125 years much has been achieved in relation to gender equality within New Zealand, but we are not there yet.

Themes and At Home Appeals

From Dunedin Diocesan Report 2018 National Conference

The theme for 2014 to 2016 Vital, Visible, Vibrant led us on many paths to look at ourselves and ponder about the impact we have on the lives of others that we came into contact with. Guest presenters spoke to us about the many ways we make ourselves visible to those around us and how our actions and our conversations can impact on those we come into contact with. I recall that at one of our Diocesan Conferences we had invited a priest who is very involved in charity work in Dunedin to come and talk to us. He had asked if he could bring some young people with him who worked in soup kitchens and refuge houses. Of course we said ‘yes’. He had been told what the theme was but when they arrived at the Conference one of the young women with him asked me what it was as he had forgotten. He knew that it was three words beginning with V.  He could remember Vital and Visible but thought the third one might be Violent. I quickly reassured the young woman that, ‘No, it was actually Vibrant’, which she agreed made more sense. They turned out to be one of the most inspirational panel we had ever heard and it was great to hear from these vital and attractive young women about the work they were doing in the city to assist Father Chamberlain.

The theme for the past two years, “CWLANZ; A Face of Mercy in Creation”, was used as the theme for our 2017 Diocesan Conference. We heard from three speakers who gave us an insight into the different aspects of this theme that we could study. We looked at the many ways that human life and nature are connected and how they relate to each other, which helps us to see the many faces of Mercy in Creation. A Social Worker from Catholic Social Services Alexandra spoke about how mercy played a big part in her work, helping those to move on after suffering some of the many problems facing people today. The Parish Priest from Alexandra introduced us to GEM; Green Earth Movement, and used quotes from Laudato Si to give us practical tips for helping the environment.

The 2017 At Home Appeal was the Sophie Elliot Foundation.  Lesley Elliot, on behalf of the Foundation, was presented with a cheque. This appeal had led to some very interesting meetings around the subject of abuse, particularly mental abuse. All branches had donated generously to this appeal and had guest speakers to talk at meetings either at branch or regional.  Visit

Last year’s At Home Appeal, ‘Pillars’, led to some very interesting meetings and some follow-on activities to assist this group. One branch had supplied car seats to enable mothers to take their children to visit their fathers in prison, another group heard about how mothers were assisted following their release from prison and another branch put an appeal in their parish newsletter for Christmas gifts and were overwhelmed with the response. It is heartening to hear about these activities taking place in our branches. Visit




Hugo Charitable Trust grant use to maximum effect


Te Awamutu Branch successfully applied for a grant from the Hugo Charitable Trust.

This Trust was set up in honour of Hugh Green by his daughter, Maryanne Green, to build on his philanthropic legacy for the future benefit of Aotearoa New Zealand and New Zealanders.

Mr Hugh Green was noted for his generosity to those less fortunate and unable to help themselves, particularly in health issues.

He lived by the philosophy, ‘My real happiness is family, the farms, the cows and people.  You come in with nothing and you go out with nothing, and you just need the essentials while you’re here.  And that’s how I’ve lived my life.’

For more information visit:

Te Awamutu Branch members researched worthy recipients carefully by delving into the their community, and in the process, became aware of the vast need, especially in health-related matters.

The recipients they chose are

A gift of Lego to a young woman with a variety of disabilities.

  • Six-year-old student who has just been diagnosed with lymphoma requiring extended treatment at Starship Hospital.
  • St Vincent de Paul, Te Awamutu, to support the ‘Bread Run’.  Members collect fresh and packaged bread rolls from Pak’n’Save at cost to deliver fortnightly to up to twenty individuals to keep contact and an eye on their welfare
  • An outing for five elderly ladies to join the sisters at Mary McKillop Centre in Mission Bay and then on to lunch.  The grant was used towards the hire of the van to transport them
  • St Patrick’s School.  The Principal, Shelly Fitness, and staff were aware that students needing extra reading support were mostly boys.  New suitable boy-oriented books will be purchased.
  • Helen, living with the consequences of an horrific car accident, desired to travel to the South Island.  To make the trip more comfortable for her and her carers, her mother hired a van which the grant helped pay for.  A highlight of the visit was the Wellington Zoo where the understanding staff allowed Helen to touch the lemurs.

A little about the Te Awamutu Branch

Every year all funds raised are donated to the Te Awamutu Plunkett in the form of knitted garments for babies requiring warm garments; St Patrick’s School to assist children needing uniforms, shoes and outer garments, St Vincent de Paul. Members also assist in many practical ways.

2018 National at Home Appeal: Motor Neurone Disease Association

Margaret Brownsey, Hamilton Diocese, Val Langley, Christchurch Diocese admire the cuddly dog with Beth Watson, President of the Motor neurone Disease Association.

Every year Catholic Women’s League choose a National Charitable organisation to learn about and to support.

Education plays a big part at Branch and Diocesan levels as learning about issues that affect many people in New Zealand are not always well known.

The more that is learned, the better each of us can support and help those in our communities who live with someone afflicted with MND.

The second part of our service is to raise funds for the organisation to be used in whatever way the organisation deems to be best at the time.

Beth Watson, the Motor Neurone Disease Association National President, spoke to the National Conference members about the difficulties in Diagnosing MND, the lack of scientific studies of the causes and treatment, and the increasing need for support services as the condition progresses.

She also highlighted the impact this condition has on family members and friends as their lives are increasingly changed.

One of the fund raising ventures of MND is the sale of beautiful cuddly toy dogs and a number were bought by members.

For further information about MND visit

(Beatrice )Tris Officer 1921 – 2018

Tris Officer

Tris Officer

Tris Officer lived in Khandallah for many years and was a very involved Parishioner in many aspects of Parish life, whether hosting a Renew group, or member of the Catholic Women’s League, or a Passionist Family group member.  I have known Tris as a fellow Parishioner, and enjoyed her friendliness, her interest in people, her hospitality and her positive support for the Church, the Parish and her attitude to her Faith.  As a member of the Onslow Parish Catholic Women’s League, Tris offered her many skills at Archdiocesan and National levels for CWL

She will also be remembered by readers as Business Manager for the Marist Messenger. Tris fulfilled this role for 15 years. The latest copy of the magazine was in her room when she died. Tris voluntarily commenced work with the Marist Messenger in 1982. She sorted the membership record cards and in 1984 took on the daunting task of learning a computer system and loading the readership list onto the computer. Having thus organised the records, she was then able to print out monthly accounts and labels and run the weekly banking.

Geoff Officer, one of Tris’ three sons, outlined her wider life in his eulogy. A trained physiotherapist, she founded a kindergarten in Plimmerton, when she was first married. Then ten happy years (1959 – 1969) in Fiji saw her work as the Librarian for the Agricultural Department, and as National Secretary and then national President of the Fiji Red Cross. Returning to New Zealand in 1970, she took on the role of International Secretary for the Catholic Women’s League, then moved on to National Secretary for the League.

After some years in this role, she became National Secretary of Pregnancy Help (NZ) serving as its second National President. She read, she prayed and worshipped her God, and she made her home one of hospitality and welcome to the clergy and religious of the various parishes to which she belonged.

  • Tribute written by Christine Paterson

Wellington Archdiocese hosts National Conference

Back – Kath Emmerson Heretaunga; Geraldine Symes (Sims?) Heretaunga; Christine Fogden Paraparaumu; Kay Blackburn National President Paraparaumu; Sam Walker Onslow; Val Kelly Upper Hutt; Anne McGrath Upper Hutt.
Second – Kath Cain Lower Hutt; Carolyn Johns Levin; Delia McCaffrey Otari; Diane Glynan Otari; Ethne Wyndham-Smith Otari; Perry Carlisle (Carlyle?) Lower Hutt; Jaqui Gilligan Onslow: Anne Lumb Otari; Susan Lloyd Upper Hutt.
Front – Karen Saunders Otari; Christine Paterson Diocesan President Onslow; Fay Doyle Paraparaumu; Christine Dwyer Lower Hutt; Anne McIntyre; Margaret McIvor Lower Hutt.

Almost 200 Catholic Women’s League members gathered in Wellington in July to attend the Bi-annual national Conference.

In conjunction with the CWL National Board, a full programme covering four days was organized over the previous year highlighting the work of the CWL over the last two years.

There was also time for entertainment and socializing.  A very successful and fulfilling time.

The Wellington report took the form of a reworded version of ‘Ave Ave’ and following are some excerpts.