The Catholic Women's League is marking 100 years of service to the Archdiocese of Edmonton with a historical exhibit hosted by the Provincial Archives of Alberta.

Edmonton’s CWL was formed in November 1912 at the urging of Katherine Hughes, renowned Edmonton journalist and Catholic social activist. At the time, the church hierarchy under Bishop Emile Legal had tried to establish a hostel for women but was unable to do so. Hughes responded: “We did not despair; we simply turned to the women.”

The early 1900s saw Edmonton experiencing an economic boom, with hundreds of people arriving daily seeking work and housing. Within weeks of its founding, the League’s volunteers from seven parishes met every train arriving in the city and set up the “CWL Girls’ Hostel.” The hostel soon offered a free employment bureau staffed by volunteers. In the following decades, CWL’s work sustained the long struggle to establish shelters in Edmonton for women in abusive situations. The League was also key in establishing Meals on Wheels in the region and has been a mover in support of organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, KARA Family Resource Centre, Edmonton Youth Emergency Shelter and Catholic Social Services.

“Many look at these important services and don’t appreciate this all started as the volunteer work of ‘church ladies,’ even though these services are now mostly funded by governments and tax dollars,” says Rose-Marie McCarthy, long-time Edmonton CWL member and chair of the League’s history project committee. “These women were the heart and soul of our community. After a century of dedicated work, it’s a good time to recognize the value these women have added to society and to understand their vision and ideals.”

In a letter to those gathered for the opening of the exhibit on Monday, Archbishop Smith wrote:
“I commend those who have worked so diligently to produce this exhibit, and I will encourage people throughout the Archdiocese to pay a visit to the Provincial Archives to see it during the coming summer months.

“…Today’s CWL members step up whenever there is a need. For many years as a priest and Bishop I have been privileged to be an eyewitness to the good work you do for God and Canada.”

The exhibit will be on display at the Provincial Archives, 8555 Roper Road NW, Edmonton, until
August 31.  Viewing hours are Tuesday to Saturday, 9 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. (9 a.m. - 9 p.m. on Wednesdays), and admission is free.

Read Archbishop Smith’s homily for the CWL Centennial Mass of April 26