By Christine M. Williams
MANSFIELD, Mass. — St. Mary’s Catholic Women’s Club’s biggest project in its first year was to raise $5 for the local Girls Scouts’ troop — a significant feat back in 1915. Far more impressive is the club’s longevity. Currently celebrating its 100th anniversary year, members say the club continues to support its parish, donate to charitable causes and nurture lasting friendships among its members.
The club’s annual Mass, at which its leaders were installed, took place at St. Mary’s September 10. A celebratory dinner was held afterward.
Membership is open to any Catholic woman in the Mansfield area. Since 1939, meetings have been held the second Thursday of each month from September to April. In May, they host a communion breakfast.
In 1915, six women started the club in order to raise money for the newly-minted church building. In that first year, the ladies visited all of the parish’s families in their homes and asked them to contribute to the church.
“Nowadays they would have done one blast email or social media of some sort, but they didn’t have that back then,” said Joanne McLaughlin, the club’s new president installed September 10.
For years their biggest fund-raisers were whist parties. While that has certainly changed, some things have remained the same. According to the original 1915 handwritten ledger, the club’s members sold baked goods to raise money, and today’s members are “known for their baking,” according to McLaughlin, who has been a member for 17 years. Their treats will be an important part of the upcoming parish festival, Septemberfest, which will be held September 13 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The festival will also feature pie eating and judging contests, a petting zoo, antique cars, carnival games, pony rides and other diversions.
Each year, the club gives part of the money they raise directly to the parish. Recently, they have put in pews in the church and made a variety of big purchases for the parish center. The women contribute to a number of other charitable organizations, including Our Daily Bread, Abundant Hope, New Hope, Catholic Charities, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Homes with Heart, the One Fund Boston and West Side Benevolent Fund.
They also have a college scholarship fund, open to parishioners who are high school seniors. Two winners receive $500 each based on their service to the parish and the wider community.
In addition to fund-raising activities, the women participate in Spiritual enrichment and social gatherings. Annually, they host parish-wide spaghetti suppers and an ecumenical Christmas potluck for women from all the area Christian churches. Many of their social events are for their members. They host talks or go to the theater together. Sometimes they have an activity like making chocolate or arranging flowers. Members say these gatherings are a chance to be refreshed.
Spiritual events include day-long retreats, praying the Rosary together and discussing the inspirational stories of female saints.
McLaughlin called the club a “lifeline” and said that club members helped her through some challenges she experienced having a child with special needs.
“I needed prayer and support,” she said. “When I was frustrated, I had people praying for me.”
She said members support each other through struggles and in life’s joys.
Celeste Jones, president of the club for the last five years, said the club is a group of women of “great faith” with whom she has built lasting bonds.
“I’ve developed a lot of friends in the last few years that I probably would not have had if I sat at home,” she said.
Lucille Stewart, a previous president and member of the Spirituality committee, said that the club has adapted with the times in order to serve its members and the parish well. She added that she hopes the club will always remain a support for thriving Catholic women and continue to support St. Mary’s.
“It’s very rewarding to do things for the Church, no matter what they are. Whatever father calls on us to do, I hope we can always respond,” she said.