Catholic Woman’s Club celebrates 100th anniversary

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. — On September 17, the members of the New Bedford Catholic Woman’s Club opened their 100th year with a Mass of Thanksgiving at St. Lawrence Martyr Church with Father Robert Powell celebrating. This was followed by a special luncheon at the Wamsutta Club where President Lynne Kuczewski greeted all and then read letters and words of congratulations from Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, OFM, Cap.; Archbishop Daniel A. Cronin; Bishop Emeritus George W. Coleman; Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V.; and Father John Sullivan, now of Holy Redeemer Parish in Chatham and a former club moderator.

The club’s current moderator, Father Philip R. Hamel of St. Joseph-St. Therese Parish in New Bedford, extended greetings of congratulations and inspiration and gave the blessing before all enjoyed the food and the company of so many members — old and new — and friends who came to celebrate with the club. Entertainment was provided via a great performance of old and new songs beautifully presented by Taylor Cormier, a local entertainer.

A poster of all members and their date of entry into the club was displayed, with Mrs. Daniel F. Dwyer (Annette) topping the list, having joined on Sept. 25, 1947.

In 1918, World War I had just ended. Catholic women were still considered outsiders in social life. Along with work, men had their clubs, but women had limited social outlets and were expected to stay at home and be homemakers. At night radio, Victrolas, and family games were the only forms of entertainment. There was a real need for women to develop outside interests.

So in June 1918, at the request of Katherine H. Edwards, chairman of the St. Lawrence Red Cross, a group of approximately 30 women met for the purpose of forming a Catholic club for literary and social advancement. It was voted unanimously to take the name “Catholic Woman’s Club,” and by the name Catholic, the club would rightfully come under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of the Fall River Diocese.

In September of that year, they elected their first president, Carolyn B. Manning, and Bishop Daniel F. Feehan appointed Msgr. Hugh J. Smyth, then-pastor of St. Lawrence Martyr Church in New Bedford, as the club’s first moderator.

Invitations were issued to all Catholic women in New Bedford and vicinity to attend a meeting in March of 1919 for the purpose of increasing membership. Charter membership closed as of the first annual meeting on May 15, 1919, and overall membership jumped from 30 to 250 members in just two years from 1918 to 1920.

During these early years, the club formed many committees — hospitality, ushers, ways and means, publicity and a service organization, which made bandages for and contributed monetarily to the Rose Hawthorne Lathrop Home in Fall River until it closed in 2002, to name a few. In 1922 a Scholarship Fund was established, which, in 1929, was renamed the Student Loan Fund and remained so until 1955 when it reverted to its original title. This fund is no longer in existence, but the club recently voted to disperse money to the five Catholic schools in the area. During this centennial year, members agreed they would start this distribution in the amount of $2,000 per year to the schools for a period of three years; so $6,000 total would be awarded to each school and student recipients would be determined by their individual principal and teachers.

In 1942, the Diocese of Fall River purchased the Sarah Delano Home at the corner of County and Madison streets in New Bedford for use as a clubhouse. With a permanent home, a new dimension was brought to the organization and a great deal of planning and effort went into furnishing the house. Mary A. Galligan, a past president and an interior decorator, accompanied then-moderator Msgr. John F. McKeon to purchase many choice furnishings at the auction of the Colonel Green Estate in South Dartmouth.

In 1974, because of the condition of the clubhouse and because of financial decisions, the diocese found it necessary to dispose of the building and thus end an era. An auction was held on the premises, and the proceeds were placed into a Building Fund.

Since that time club meetings have been held at various venues: The Days Inn on Hathaway Road, the Century House in Acushnet and for many years now at the Wamsutta Club. The club still maintains many charitable causes, including the Catholic Charities Appeal, the Missionaries of Charity, Mobile Loaves and Fishes, the Sister Rose House (formerly Market Ministries), Birthright, the Council of Women’s Organizations Project and a needy family chosen by PACE at Christmas.

The New Bedford Catholic Woman’s Club membership, which at one point numbered more than 700 ladies, has witnessed nine popes, 18 presidents, seven bishops, 11 amendments to the Constitution, and the addition of two new states.

Over the years, the club has provided the opportunity for women to meet, to listen to stimulating lectures, to enjoy pleasant programs, to hold fund-raisers to provide monies in support of its charities, and to form strong and lasting friendships.

The theme throughout the 100th anniversary celebration was “Then and Now,” with the luncheon featuring “retro” hors d’oeuvres and a “modern” dessert. Flowers at the head table followed the same old-to-new format with one being a Gatsby-era arrangement and the other an up-to-date display. At the conclusion of the day these flowers were taken to local nursing homes where some members currently reside — Our Lady’s Haven in Fairhaven and the Sacred Heart Home in New Bedford.

All-in-all, it was a wonderful day of reminiscing and looking forward, hopefully to many more years of enjoyment and charity.

The club’s current roster of officers includes: Lynne Kuczewski, president; Mary Elizabeth Griffin, first vice president; Delia Silva, second vice president; Mary Mitchell, recording secretary; Leonora Carreiro, corresponding secretary; and Helen Stager, treasurer.

© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts