In mid-September, the Catholic Women's League Australia held its 45th biennial national conference in Melbourne and I had the privilege of presenting the opening address.
The conference was entitled Go in Peace, Glorifying the Lord with Your Life. The theme was a timely one and, it seems to me, captures the essence of the Catholic Women's League.
Let me highlight three particular aspects which emerged as I contemplated the theme in preparation for my address.
Firstly, the League had chosen to engage with the revised translation of the Mass and this reflects its ongoing active participation in the life of the Church. Go in Peace, Glorifying the Lord with Your Life puts us in the context of the rite of conclusion at Mass, when we are blessed and dismissed or better missioned by the priest or deacon to go out and be the body and blood of Christ in the world.
Pope Benedict XVI emphasised how the Eucharist underpins this missioning in his 2007 Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation – The Sacramentum Caritatas:
“The love that we celebrate in the sacrament is not something we can keep to ourselves. By its very nature it demands to be shared with all. What the world needs is God's love; it needs to encounter Christ and to believe in him. The Eucharist is thus the source and summit not only of the Church's life, but also of her mission: ‘an authentically eucharistic Church is a missionary Church’ … We cannot approach the eucharistic table without being drawn into the mission which, beginning in the very heart of God, is meant to reach all people. Missionary outreach is thus an essential part of the eucharistic form of the Christian life” (n. 84).
Thus, we are to go forth from Mass to be the face and hands and feet of Jesus and in our daily activities at home and at work, and in the wider society are called to act in such a way that our lives glorify the Lord.
Secondly, the preliminary phase of the cause for Mary Glowrey’s canonisation commenced in recent months and this is a cause for celebration on the part of the Catholic Women's League. Mary Glowrey (1887–1957, pictured) exemplifies the conference theme par excellence. Born into an ordinary Australian Catholic family of her time, she grew up in Western Victorian farming communities. Her great gifts were developed and flourished through her education, successful practice as one of the first women doctors in Melbourne, and commitment to nourishing her faith.
World War I interrupted Mary Glowrey’s plans to become a medical missionary in India, but allowed her to undertake a higher medical degree, including specialisations in obstetrics, gynaecology and ophthalmology.
At the same time and despite the demands of practice and study, she was committed to generous service and advocacy to address the needs of the disadvantaged. The latter culminated in the founding of the Catholic Women's Social Guild (later the Catholic Women's League, Victoria and Wagga Wagga) with other pioneering women and her role as inaugural general president, and ultimately in her lifelong commitment to the peoples of India as Sr Dr Mary of the Sacred Heart of the Society of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
It is a source of inspiration and joy to the Catholic Women's League, Australia that the preliminary phase of the cause for her canonisation has commenced. Here in Melbourne and over decades in India in her superhuman service to the sick as the first religious sister to be a missionary doctor, in her leading work in medical science and medical ethics, and in her personal suffering, her life glorified God in an exemplary manner.
Thirdly, I am aware of so many instances when the members of the Catholic Women's League in their own lives, by their frequent participation in the life of the Church as well as through their charitable works and advocacy, are shining examples of the conference theme, Go in Peace, Glorifying the Lord with Your Life.
The League participates actively in the formation of women and the nurturing of their faith. In these endeavours it would be the leading organisation in Australia committed to the formation of Catholic women and, significantly, it is this 'platform' that provides the foundation for their extensive works.
Thus, the Catholic Women's League continues to address socioeconomic and other disadvantage in practical ways in the spirit of its founders. These works ambitiously and generously meet needs identified both in Australia and across several developing countries. The League has also built on its founders’ work of advocacy and seeking to influence policy and legislation towards achieving a more just and equitable society.
Mary Glowrey can now be a role model not only for the Catholic Women's League but also for all Australians as we grapple with issues related to human dignity and the preciousness of life at all its stages.
Across the dioceses of Australia members of the Catholic Women's League glorify the Lord with the lives, work and ministries, for which the Church can indeed be grateful.
Professor Gabrielle McMullen is Emeritus Professor, Australian Catholic University.
Published in CathNews