ACCW celebrates 80 years of faithful service

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women is celebrating 80 years of encouraging its members to pray, learn and serve together.

Those were the aims of the organization when it was founded by Cardinal George Mundelein, with the urging of Msgr. Timothy Rowan and several other correspondents who wrote letters to the editor of The New World, as the archdiocesan newspaper was then called, urging women’s groups from parishes all over the archdiocese to band together in a federation.

“The focus has always been that we’re all Catholic women joining together,” said Christine Schumann, the councils current president. “The mission is still the same.”

The council celebrated its anniversary at an Aug. 6 breakfast at Drury Lane in Oak Brook.

The key has been to emphasize the spiritual, Schumann said, so no one forgets why the group comes together. They also enjoy socializing, but most often do it in the context of service.

In the beginning, Cardinal Mundelein gave the women a number of projects to work on, including some in which it is still active, such as working with the Girl Scout Program for Catholic Girls, which offers the Marian Award and St. Ann Award to Girl Scouts, Campfire Girls and Junior Daughters of St. Peter Claver. Members of the ACCW also have supported the local efforts of the USO since World War II, hosting dances in parishes during the war years and supplying refreshments and volunteers at USO offices in the years since then.

For its first decade, it was an independent organization, joining the National Council of Catholic Women in 1942. Since then, it has often worked with the initiatives of the national council, which come from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“A lot of what we work on comes from the USCCB,” Schumann said. “A lot of the issues are the same: immigration was an issue then, and so was pornography.

In the 1940s and 1950s, the council offered a spiritual development committee to encourage participation at daily Mass, days of recollection and retreats; a library and literacy committee to select reading material for study groups and encourage the establishment of parish libraries; a discussion club committee; a committee to organize volunteers at St. Vincent’s Orphanage; and a decency crusade committee.

In the 1960s, the council adopted a system of five commissions that continues today. The five commissions are: family affairs, community affairs, organizational services, church communities and international affairs.

The group discussed women’s rights in 1978, having to hold an extra session after its scheduled two-day convention to finish discussion on a resolution on women’s rights, but not supporting the Equal Rights Amendment.

In 1987, at the request of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, the group took on a leadership role in the National Religious Alliance Against Pornography. That led to the creation of an archdiocesan task force on the issue.

In 2003, the ACCW started awarding a scholarship to an outstanding girl each year. The $1,000 scholarships, based on an essay, are renewable for four years. This year’s winner was Allison Boudreau of Holy Cross Parish in Deerfield.

The council also works to provide help to people, especially women, in other countries. This year, council members raised more than $5,000 to help Catholic Relief Services build wells in Africa, Schumann said, and several parish groups raised money for the well effort by selling fair-trade goods, providing another opportunity for education, she said.