My Faith is everything to me
27 March 2014 General Interest
The new National President of Catholic Women’s League Australia (CWLA), Carolyn Metcalfe, is looking forward to the joys and challenges ahead as she takes up her role, but says all her efforts will be underpinned by the guiding force in her life – her faith in God and the movement of the Holy Spirit.
“My faith is everything to me,” Carolyn says.
“And that’s one of the reasons I love the Catholic Women’s League. It’s so nurturing of that faith and it builds and strengthens you so much.”
Carolyn, a mother of six and grandmother of 14, who lives at Buff Point on the Central Coast, was installed as the National President of CWLA during a Mass at Our Lady of the Rosary Cathedral, Waitara on 6 February.
The installation Mass was celebrated by Diocesan Administrator Fr Vince Casey, with Fr Biju Puthenpura, Catholic Women’s League NSW chaplain for the previous three years, concelebrating, along with Fr David Orr and Dean of the Cathedral, Fr Robert Borg. The Mass took the theme “Open our Ears to Hear God’s Word…”, taken from the first Encyclical of Pope Francis’ pontificate, “Lumen Fidei”.
Also attending were Margie Abbott, representing Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Matthew Kean the Member for Hornsby, representing Premier Barry O’Farrell, Steve Russell, the Mayor of Hornsby, and Marita Winters, the Director of the National Office for Evangelisation. Representatives from the National Council of Women, Australian Church Women, Administration Officers from the Broken Bay Diocese and a representative from the St Vincent de Paul Society also attended.
Although she had always been aware of the Catholic Women’s League, Carolyn didn’t join it until she retired and moved to the Central Coast with her late husband Don in 2003.
“I was very involved in other areas of parish life at my former parish of St Kieran’s Manly Vale,” she says. “In particular, I was very active in the RCIA. But when we came up here to the Central Coast, I had a friend who was in the Catholic Women’s League and I decided to try it.”
At the end of that first year, Carolyn became secretary of her local CWL branch, which put her in contact with the CWL at diocesan level. She served a term as Diocesan Secretary, then Diocesan President, and was elected as State President for a three year term before taking on the national role.
“So it’s been a steady progression, really,” she says. “My husband Don died in 2012 and he wanted me to go on and serve at the national level. He was always very supportive of everything I did, especially in the Catholic Women’s League.”
She says that finding ways to boost membership will be a key focus of her two-year term as President.
“Our membership is ageing and we’d love to get new members, younger members,” she says.
“But that whole scenario has changed from what it used it to be. Our young people today are so busy working and when they’ve got free time they spend it with their families and children. And then when they do look for other things, they see us as an older generation and they’re looking for something different.
“So, while we always embrace younger members, I think our target is around the women of retirement age, who are still energetic and active and still have a lot to give and could perhaps come in and add a lot to our organisation.”
Carolyn says many people would be surprised to find out the extent of the cutting edge issues with which the Catholic Women’s League is involved.
“We do a lot of work with bioethics and social issues,” she says.
A National Research Officer keeps members informed of issues developing within state and federal governments. The CWLA then advocates its position through various means, including preparing submissions for Senate and other government inquiries.
“For instance, we were very active at the time of the vote on same-sex marriage last year, advocating in favour of the traditional understanding of marriage,” she says.
Their advocacy even extends to having a representative attend the United Nations as an NGO, with their representative currently in New York attending the Commission for the Status of Women 58.
Carolyn says the CWLA is also aligned with other organisations, such as the Equality Rights Alliance (an umbrella group of women’s organisations) and the National Council of Women.
“And in all of these organisations that we’re affiliated with, we’re always very careful that we are in line with the teachings of our Church and our belief,” she says.
“Often in issues of women’s health, if we can’t accept a decision that they’re coming to, we have to make certain that our position is stated, that the Catholic Women’s League either voted against it or abstained because of our position. It’s important that we do that, but there many other areas that we have in common, where we can work together.”
The CWLA is also involved with ecumenical and interfaith alliances, often working with Jewish and Muslim women’s groups.
“We’re very supportive of women, particularly the education of women, as well as encouraging women in leadership roles. They’re all very strong issues that we need to be out there supporting.”
Carolyn says she is thankful for very strong team she has working with her, and apart from drawing on the experience and talents of those around her, including CWLA Chaplain Fr David Orr and liturgy officer Carmel Pilcher rsj, Carolyn says she will also call on the Holy Spirit to carry her through the challenges ahead.