A Brief History of NCCW
Why Were We Founded?
What Have We Done?
Why Do We Belong?
In March, 1920, NCCW was founded under the auspices of the U.S. Catholic bishops. The bishops had witnessed the important work done by Catholic women’s organizations during World War I and had the wisdom to call for the founding of NCCW to bring these organizations together. This gave U.S. Catholic women a unified voice, a national service program and the ability to reach out to each other through a national organization.
In its early years, NCCW’s work was organized into 15-20 program committees through which issues were addressed. As early as the 1920s, NCCW was emphasizing the sanctity of marriage and educating women on the dangers of birth control and divorce – both of which strike at the very foundation of society the family unit.
In the 1930s, after World War I, NCCW welcomed and aided immigrants in key cities as the United States received a great influx of European immigrants who left their homes speaking very little or no English. After the stock market crash of Black Thursday (October 24, 1929), NCCW reached out again, training volunteers to work in settlement houses and wherever needs surfaced.
The 1940s were dominated by World War II. NCCW women volunteered and worked where needed. In 1946 a Foreign Relief Committee was added to the NCCW committees to help children overseas. This committee worked War Relief Services which changed its name in 1955 to Catholic Relief Services. From this collaboration grew the NCCW/CRS partnership which recently celebrated its 60th anniversary.
In the 1950s, NCCW increased its international ties, joining the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations (WUCWO). WUCWO has canonical status with the Holy See as a Public International Association of the Faithful. In 2006 NCCW hosted the WUCWO General Assembly in the United States for the first time and witnessed the first North American Woman elected the organization’s President General. The ‘50s also saw the launching of the Military Council of Catholic Women and its affiliation with NCCW, as the a need for a support network for Catholic military spouses grew after World War II and at the start of the Korean War. The president of MCCW has a seat on the NCCW Board.
The 1960s were years of unrest. The Vietnam War and anti-war protests, the civil rights movement, the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert F. Kennedy – all these had a profound effect on American life and American Catholic women. Finally there was the renewal of the Church through Vatican Council II. As women stepped forward to take on leadership roles in the Church, council started supporting them and helping them develop their leadership skills.
Mother Teresa and actress Helen Hayes both spoke at the 1960 NCCW convention in Las Vegas, Nevada. At the time of this convention, Mother Teresa’s mission to God’s poorest in the streets of Calcutta had received very little publicity outside of India, but after her appearance, contributions poured in from her listeners in Las Vegas and the steady flow of NCCW aid through the Madonna Plan eventually allowed her to send teams of her sisters to many other parts of the world.
After Vatican Council II, NCCW reorganized and followed the directive of the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, eliminating all of the committees and establishing the Commission system. The 5 commissions which were established encompassed the life of each member in the church—
– emphasizing that our lives be centered around prayer
– promoting family principles, the core of society.
– pointing the way to reach out into our secular communities
– Meeting global needs
– centering on individual and council growth and the development of our councils.
Our sixth Commission, LEGISLATION
, was added in 1995 and focused on social justice issues, challenging our government to create just laws and policies.
NCCW reached out to improve women’s health in the 1970s. Health issues such as breast health awareness were already being addressed and in 1978 NCCW developed a Breast Cancer Education Program.
In the 1980s and 1990s, NCCW continued to initiate programs addressing the concerns of Catholic women: Women Gathered for Peace, the Earth in Our Hands environmental program, Mothers Outreach to Mothers, a mentoring program to train volunteers to assist at-risk pregnant women and the Respite Program, which trains women to volunteer to provide relief for family caregivers.
In the 2000s, NCCW remains a strong force helping Catholic women live their faith in the modern world. NCCW has joined with a Catholic coalition to “Make the CASE for Children’s Health (Children and a Safe Environment)” and serves on the Steering Committee for the new Catholic Coalition on Climate Change. Helping Children Read for Fun and Future, a book collection and distribution program, serves children and families in need. The NCCW Book Club encourages women to read and discuss a particular book selected yearly. The 2007 selection, Mother Teresa: Lessons of Love and Secrets of Sanctity, has been well received and we were pleased to welcome the author, Susan Conroy, to speak to us at our Convention.
NCCW’s activities mirror events in the country and the world, but its strength is the parish-based women who serve the poor, the elderly, and the forgotten, advocate at state and national legislatures, support one another in the various circumstances of their lives, and join voices in prayer and worship. Our strength is in the united efforts of Catholic women through our affiliates and individual members!