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Ladies from Runanga Catholic Women's League attending a function in Greymouth (1960)


Ladies from Runanga Catholic Women's League attending a function in Greymouth (1960)

Lord, as I participate in the all-too-consuming activities that require my attention today, I pray that I would not lose sight of You.

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About the CWL

Welcome to the Catholic Women's League of New Zealand (CWLANZ), a legacy born from the visionary Margaret Fletcher in 1906. Guided by the belief that "Catholic women will have a great responsibility in the future of the world".

Today, CWLANZ remains a living embodiment of Margaret's vision - a powerful force, a "weapon for God." Established in New Zealand in 1931, our league proudly stands as the largest Catholic women's organisation in the World Union of Catholic Women's Organizations (WUCWO).

Dedicated to global unity, our league supports missions and actively engages in faith and service within communities. Our motto, "Faith and Service," inspires spiritual well-being and community involvement. As Mother Teresa wisely said, "Faith in action is love, and love in action is service," reflecting the heart of our members.

Driven by ecumenism, CWLANZ places intellectual and spiritual life at the forefront, fostering community connections in New Zealand. Embracing the theme "Vital, Visible, Vibrant," our members embody the essence of CWL, contributing actively to civic life and shaping a future where Catholic women play an integral role. Join us in this empowering journey of faith, service, and community vitality.

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The History of the 
Catholic Women's League

Founded in 1906 by Margaret Fletcher in England, the Catholic Women's League (CWL) emerged with a vision to empower Catholic women in contributing to the social, intellectual, and spiritual aspects of their communities. St. Margaret Clitherow is the patron saint.

In 1931, Bishop Liston established the CWL in Auckland, New Zealand, with a motto of "Faith and Service." During the Depression, the league played a crucial role in voluntary social work, launching women into public activities and developing leadership skills.

Branches expanded rapidly, with the first country branches formed in Rotorua, Tauranga, and Whakatane in 1932. The Auckland League actively contributed to the war effort during World War II.

From 1934 to 1964, 61 branches were formed, and the league's diverse activities, including the Homemakers' Circle, thrived. By 1976, there were 2270 members in the Auckland Diocese.

Christchurch joined in 1936 under Bishop Brodie, promoting unity among Catholic women. The league's endeavors during the war, community involvement, and ecumenical efforts characterised its growth.

In Wellington, Archbishop O'Shea initiated the league in 1944, emphasising welfare, spiritual development, and community action. By 1975, membership reached 3121.

Bishop Whyte facilitated the league's establishment in Dunedin in 1949. Otago and Southland saw dynamic growth, reaching 30 branches by 1966.

Hamilton Diocese formed in 1980, encouraged by Bishop Gaines, boasting 28 branches by the end of the year. Palmerston North, under Bishop Cullinane, set up its Diocesan Council in 1981.

These dioceses actively participated in conferences, welfare work, and community engagement, leaving a lasting impact. For detailed information, refer to the National History.

In 1948, the CWL embraced the theme "Women Alive," embodying the vibrant unity of the first four Diocesan Councils forming a national body. Miss Kathleen O'Connor of Christchurch became the inaugural Dominion President, steering the league with wisdom for eight years.

Initially annual and later biennial, National Conferences became a foundation for idea exchange, policy-making, mission discussions, and the exploration of national themes. In 1980, the theme revolved around "The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World," contributing material sent to Rome for the Bishops' Synod.

Decentralisation efforts in the 1960s encouraged parish-level branches, proving successful in large cities. 

Mission support became a cornerstone, with a unique mission allocation system ensuring fair distribution. The League's responses to natural disasters and support for Māori Missions and "Mission at Home" are detailed in the history.

The spiritual dimension, integral to the League, has been nurtured by dedicated National, Diocesan, and Branch Chaplains. Ecumenical endeavors, including participation in the World Day of Prayer, showcase the League's commitment to active roles in community life.

Addressing social concerns, the League has submitted numerous researched matters to relevant authorities, contributing to its rich history.

Internationally, CWL is part of the World Union of Catholic Women's Organisations (WUCWO), promoting principles and leadership. Responses to WUCWO questionnaires, Days of Prayer, and participation in international assemblies underscore the League's global engagement.

Refer to the Catholic Women's League of New Zealand National History 1931-1990 by Noeline De Courcy for a comprehensive exploration of this remarkable journey.

St Margaret Clitherow

Dear Lord Jesus, give us the courage and grace not only to live holy lives, but to be willing to die holy deaths as St. Margaret of Clitherow more

World Union of Catholic
Women's Organisations

No matter where we are in the world, vulnerable women and children face similar hardships. Membership of the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organisation (WUCWO) gives us an important, worldwide view of the issues facing women.     

The WUCWO General Assemblies give us Resolutions that help us look at our society and formulate our priorities. Fighting to stop human trafficking and exploitation of workers, eliminating sexual harm and violence against women, increasing holiness, caring for nature, and combating climate change…

The President General of WUCWO has asked member organisations worldwide to embrace the Laudato Si Action Platform that was launched from the Vatican in November 2022. This is a seven-year programme of responses and action to the Luadato Si Seven Goals. Catholic Women’s League of Aotearoa NZ has decided to focus first on the goals relating to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor. By taking action to address the cry of the land we also must respond to the cry of the poor.

Manaaki whenua, Manaaki tangata, Haere whakamua
Care for the planet, Care for the people, Go forward

Learn more about the CWL’ global connections

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National Board

Meet the dedicated individuals leading the Catholic Women's League of Aotearoa, New Zealand.


Our National Board members bring a wealth of experience and passion to their respective roles, embodying the values of faith, service, and community. Explore the profiles below to get acquainted with the leaders shaping the vision and mission of CWLANZ...


Become a member of the League...

Lord of Life, bless and be with all members of the Catholic Women’s League....

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