WCR FILE PHOTO
Then archdiocesan CWL president Molly MacDonald speaks with Msgr. Bill Irwin, founder of Catholic Social Services, at the 1993 CWL convention.
Since Catholic Social Services was launched in Edmonton in 1961, the Catholic Women's League has been supportive.
Along with the Knights of Columbus, the CWL remains one of the agency's most significant contributors, both financially and in their volunteer hours.
Marc Barylo, chief development and community relations officer at Catholic Social Services, referred to the CWL as "the backbone of our volunteer base."
When the agency began welcoming newly-arrived refugees to the city, the CWL helped provide support services, befriended the newcomers, donated clothes and even assisted with some of their food requirements.
"In 1961 we started our Christmas hamper drive for needy families, and they were the ones who helped raise all the money and buy the food that was necessary for it," said Barylo.
"They got their husbands and the Knights of Columbus to deliver the food. Right from our inception, they've been involved with us."
In the 1970s, the CWL made a significant financial contribution that allowed Catholic Social Services to open a facility specifically for girls with mental health issues.
The CWL continues writing cheques and volunteering for special projects, and helping out with many different programs – everything from helping neglected seniors and families in crisis to cooking for people with HIV/AIDS.
"They do all of the thankless tasks that are often onerous and require selfless dedication and a lot of love. They serve as great mentors and are an example to all of our staff and the community," said Barylo.
The CWL's role of being the presence of Christ among clients and staff has, he said, never changed over the years.
"As baptized Catholics, their responsibility to reach out to people in need in the spirit of justice and compassion, has never changed. They take that responsibility very seriously, and it's a common thread in their ministry to us over the years," said Barylo.
League members volunteer for special projects and raise funds for the annual Sign of Hope campaign.
Through the generosity of the CWL – as well as thousands of individuals, business owners, corporations and social organizations – about $2 million is raised annually. These funds are critical to the success of programs and services provided to help people of all faiths and cultures in their time of need.
"The Sign of Hope celebrated its 25th anniversary a couple of years ago," said Bea Salmon, volunteer coordinator for the Sign of Hope campaign.
"I think it was pretty soon after it started that the CWL started offering its partnership and support. We are doing all of the mailouts now."
As a result, the Edmonton Archdiocese's CWL was the 2011 recipient of the annual Monsignor Bill Irwin Award of Excellence presented by CSS.
The award acknowledged the organization for living up to Irwin's ministry of meeting the needs of the poor and disadvantaged.
Presenting the award June 24, 2011 at the Northlands Expo Centre, Father Mike McCaffery called the CWL prophetic models of Christian sacrifice, humility, compassion and selfless service.
McCaffery described CWL members as "exemplary witnesses to the virtues of faith, love and hope in action."
"The CWL donates financially to the Sign of Hope through all of the parishes in the diocese," said Salmon.
Assisting Catholic Social Services is one of many ways that CWL supports the community, she said.
"CSS has a volunteer department, so there are individual CWL members doing other things too," said Salmon.