GREEN BAY — In 1920, a national organization of Catholic women was formed in the U.S. At that time, in the Diocese of Green Bay, women’s groups, such as rosary guilds and altar societies, were active in parishes.
In 1924, Bishop Paul Rhode saw an opportunity for these parish societies to unite as a diocesan women’s group to bond with the national organization. The Green Bay Diocesan Council of Catholic Women (DCCW) was established to support that.
DCCW will mark its anniversary on Nov. 17, 90 years to the day that Bishop Rhode and 228 parish delegates assembled at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Green Bay. Bishop David Ricken will celebrate the anniversary Mass at 6:30 p.m. at the cathedral.
Contributions to diocese
DCCW has served as the “voice of the Catholic women,” said Fr. Don Everts, pastor of Annunciation, St. Joseph, St. Jude and St. Patrick parishes on Green Bay’s west side and DCCW spiritual advisor. “It’s amazing how much they have done over the years. Much of it has been work behind the scenes. It shows the power of these women when they come together.”
Contributions by DCCW have included establishing summer vacation schools and a Catholic girls’ camp in the 1920s. The diocese took over the camp in 1990. Today, the camp, located on Loon Lake near Shawano, operates as Camp Tekakwitha.
In the 1940s, the council organized a Catholic Youth Organization (CYO), assisted with the needs of migrant workers and supported war relief activities. Other past efforts have included establishing the Sacred Heart television program in 1958, supporting rural life projects and promoting the sale of subscriptions to the Register, the diocesan newspaper. In 1962, the women became involved in a campaign to combat human trafficking and pornography, a cause that continues today. DCCW has also made numerous donations in support of ministries, including the Sunday TV Mass and Legislative Day in Madison.
“When you talk about a women’s group, some people think you are the funeral meal group or you wash the altar linens,” said Paula Friemuth, current DCCW president and a member of Holy Family Parish, Brillion. “We have our footprints in a lot of history. Visionary women started this and our name is connected to a lot of things. I think people are surprised with all that Catholic women have done in the past. They took on the challenges of that day.”
Part of national council
The Green Bay DCCW is part of the Milwaukee Province, along with the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and the dioceses of Madison, La Crosse and Superior. The National Council of Catholic Women (NCCW) provides information on projects and activities that can be adapted for the locality.
“We started our respite program in 1985, which is still going,” explained Jackie Walker, a past president and province director, who coordinates public relations for DCCW. “Volunteers relieve a family caregiver for an amount of time. That program was handed down by national.”
A fund-raiser, coffee mugs designed by Terri Olivas, a past president, was adopted by NCCW. Green Bay’s DCCW “Let’s Lick Family Violence” campaign also became a national program. In 2001, the women began handing out candy suckers at parishes in exchange for donations. Funds collected are given to local domestic abuse shelters. The campaign has raised more than $168,000.
“Some of the women were volunteering at the shelters, so they knew that funds had been cut,” said Rosalyn Bourgeois, a past president and province director and member of Holy Cross Parish, Mishicot.
“We’ve also been contributing to Br. Regis (Fust, SDS, of the Salvatorian Mission Warehouse in New Holstein),” she added. “He sends things all over the world. We’ve been involved in water projects with Catholic Relief Services (Water for Life and Living Water International). A lot of wells have been constructed.”
Go Green initiative in 2015
DCCW continues to take on new projects. Friemuth explained that as part of a “Go Green” initiative, in 2015, the women will be introducing its “Caps of Love” program. Plastic bottle caps will be collected to make recycled products. The money from the sale of the products is used to purchase wheelchairs for disabled children. A trucking company has offered to transport the caps to a recycling center in Florida.
Presidents at the diocesan level commonly serve a two-year term. The province director position rotates among the archdiocese and dioceses of the state. Green Bay has had a presence at the national level. Several women from the diocese have held national board positions dating back to the 1950s. Fr. Everts presented at a national convention.
DCCW gatherings in the diocese include “Marian Day,” a “Day of Enlightenment,” conventions and assemblies. Many of the women have traveled to national conventions.
“I’ve enjoyed the opportunities at the national convention to personally meet authors of some wonderful books and people from EWTN programs,” said Friemuth. “You meet people from around the country.”
Walker, a member of St. John the Baptist Parish, Howard, is thankful for the personal growth through her involvement in DCCW and NCCW.
“I’ve met wonderful people who do so much good,” she said. “Working with them personally has helped my leadership skills. Attending national conventions and other workshops has built my confidence and taught me just how much good the Catholic Church does.”
“It’s a sisterhood of support,” said Bourgeois. “This experience has been a spiritually enriching adventure.”
Looking ahead, DCCW is working on the “three Rs,” said Friemuth.
“Some women who were connected to us, because of different lifestyles, the workforce, societies have fallen to the wayside,” she said. “We would like to reconnect with those women, recruit more Catholic women to the council and reclaim some of our voice. Years ago, you had to be in a (parish) women’s group. Now we have individual members. We are working on developing a website. Maybe we will hold meetings by Skype to reach women of all ages and all facets of life.”
To join DCCW or for more information, contact Paula Friemuth, president, at (920) 860-6682 or [email protected].