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Mobilizing Michigan's Catholic Women
Kait Melville-Hall hasn’t always listened as well as she might have — to God or to herself for that matter. (See sidebar.) But the Alpena woman who heads the state’s Council of Catholic Women (CCW) is hoping women across northern Michigan are listening, and that Catholic women everywhere will unite and be heard.
“R U Listening?” is the theme of the annual convention of the Gaylord Diocesan Council of Catholic Women (DCCW), slated for May 7 in Gaylord.
“Be the Voice of Catholic Women: Catholic Women United in Truth” is the theme of the National Council of Catholic Women (NCCW) that Michigan will host Sept. 24-27 in Grand Rapids.
Melville-Hall serves as President of the Diocese of Gaylord’s DCCW and now as director of CCW’s Detroit Province, which encompasses all of Michigan, Melville-Hall is working to mobilize women not just to prepare for the upcoming convention, but to engage them in the battle to preserve the Catholic faith and principles she believes are under siege.
“We’re losing our people and our children, all because society is blowing smoke and mirrors,” she said from her home in Alpena where she is a member of St. Bernard Parish. She sees God’s and family values eroding as secular society supplants them with its own. “Families are starving for spiritual food.”
CCW can be one source of that manna.
“The NCCW acts through its members to support, empower and educate all Catholic women in spirituality, leadership and service. NCCW programs respond with Gospel values to the needs of the Church and society in the modern world,” according to the group’s mission statement.
Neither the concept nor the organization is new. “The bishops realized in World War I Catholic women were a force to be reckoned with,” said Melville-Hall. Post-war, they saw value in uniting Catholic women in voices and service to promote the Church and influence society. Out of that was born NCCW.
Though some Catholic women may not be aware of it, they are members of the 94-year-old umbrella organization because their women’s groups, their parishes and their dioceses are NCCW affiliates.
Too few, however, are active, said Melville-Hall. As the state’s CCW director, she said motivating women to get involved is one of her greatest challenges.
Aging membership, merged or closed parishes, vanishing ladies’ groups and fewer parish leaders who understand CCW’s roots, goals and responsibilities are factors in declining membership and participation, said Melville-Hall. The result is fewer membership dues, translating into less funding for the council’s programs and work.
She wants to change that through education and understanding. CCW’s “old guard” must welcome new, energetic blood, and make changes recognizing many women work and can’t attend daytime meetings. “I have an open door policy. If you get the younger people in, the younger women can help us into tomorrow. As these older ladies die off, we will all die off and we will have no communication” without a young guard. “We have to make them feel welcome.” Melville-Hall is convinced that loving, prayer and the Holy Spirit are integral to accomplishing that.
“It’s no coincidence,” said Melville-Hall, what happens when women unite to do God’s will. She’s seen what happens. While at the Right to Life March in Washington, DC, earlier this year, participants were cold as they marched, but when huddled together “the Holy Spirit covered us,” keeping them warm.
In that vein, she has hope for CCW’s “We Are One” campaign that asks every Catholic woman in the United States to give $1 to the organization. A positive response would eliminate CCW debt resulting from tough economic times and dwindling membership, and enable the group to purchase technology, bringing it into the 21st Century.
“It gets my Irish up,” she said, when groups or parishes fail to recognize they are all connected. “We are all one body.”
Melville-Hall is calling on Catholic women to level walls that might divide them and unite to learn, participate and help those who are hurting. CCW does that through:
- • Water for Life, a partnership with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) that provides potable water and sanitation systems to the developing world;
- • CRS;
- • Catholic Human Services;
- • St. Vincent DePaul Society;
- • Cross Catholic Outreach; and
- • a variety of efforts that focus on fighting domestic violence, pornography, human trafficking, or promote fair trade and human dignity.
Additionally, CCW offers local conferences, workshops and retreats.
Gaylord Diocesan Council of Catholic Women Convention
Retired Fr. Jim Fitzpatrick, homilist and Alpena native, will speak at the Wednesday, May 7 annual convention, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. at the Diocesan Pastoral Center in Gaylord. All Catholic women are invited; delegates will elect officers. Cost is $20 and includes lunch; help is available for those who can’t afford tickets. Reservations are needed by April 23. For more information or to register, call Kathleen Kitchen, 989-370-4415 or log onto http://gaylorddccw.catholicweb.com/
National Council of Catholic Women Convention
The NCCW convention at the Amway Grand Hotel, Grand Rapids, is open to all Catholic women. Volunteers and uniquely Michigan items for convention goodie bags are needed; call Melville-Hall at 989-356-0949 to help. For detailed information or to register for the convention, visit http://www.nccw.org or call 800-506-9407.
— By Chris Grosser. Chris is a freelance writer/editor based in Gaylord and is a member of St. Mary Cathedral. You can reach her at email@example.com.