Toronto Diocesan Council

Excerpts from each decade:

A History of the League in the Archdiocese of Toronto
1921 - 2001 "For God and Canada"

1920's 1930's 1940's 1950's 1960's 1970's 1980's 1990's 2000's 

The Toronto Diocesan Council of the Catholic Women’s League of Canada was formed during the First National Convention, held in Toronto on June 3, 1921. Mary McMahon was elected the first president, and His Grace Archbishop Neil McNeil became the spiritual director.


In June 1921, The Catholic Women’s League of Canada held the First Annual Convention in Toronto. At this time, the Toronto Archdiocesan Subdivision was organized. The principal objectives of this convention included the adoption of a permanent constitution and the establishment of an official CWL publication to be known as The Canadian League. Archbishop Neil McNeil funded the first issue of the magazine in 1921. The Canadian League continues to this day.

In June 1922, 16 out of the 23 subdivisions attended the Second Annual Meeting of the Toronto Archdiocesan Subdivision. Subdivisions at that time included Niagara Falls, Thorold and Welland. A motion was passed for a per capita fee of 10 cents per member to defray archdiocesan expenses, bringing total national per capita fees to 30 cents.

In 1925, the Toronto Junior Subdivision was formed with Ann Kelly as its first president.

In 1927, Girl Guide companies were organized and sponsored by the Junior League. Girl Guides of Canada became a national convenership until a change in the national constitution in 1968, when it became a sub-convenership under Christian Family Life.


A national convention was held in Toronto for the second time in 1932 at the Royal York Hotel. The work of the Junior Subdivisions was highlighted with Junior delegates presiding at lunch and dinner sessions.

In 1933, the archdiocesan convention was held in Barrie.

Archbishop McNeil called an archdiocesan meeting in that year, inviting presidents of parish societies and other organizations. At this meeting, it was decided that these Catholic organizations should federate with the archdiocesan council and pay an annual fee of $1.00.


1939 To 1945 were war years. The main efforts of the CWL were in aiding the work of the Catholic Women’s War Services Committee. Red Cross and War Service groups were organized throughout the archdiocese and much money was raised, donated and spent during these years. During the Canadian National Exhibition in 1941, Catholic Women’s League members participated daily in the program carried on in the War Wing of the Women’s Building, where sewing was done for residents of the bombed cities of Britain.

Toronto hosted the National CWL Convention in 1941.

The Silver Jubilee Convention of the Toronto Archdiocesan Council was held in 1945 at the King Edward Hotel. Reports included the need for more study groups. Resolutions urged the encouragement or sponsorship of youth centres where young people’s energies might be directed along healthy normal lines as an antidote to juvenile delinquency.

Ontario was the first province to form a provincial council, and the first Ontario Provincial Convention was held in Toronto on September 16, 1948.

In the late 1940’s, Mary Cobham recognized the importance of sponsoring a public speaking contest for the children of her parish school, Our Lady of Sorrows. This was the forerunner of the Archdiocesan Public Speaking Contests.


In 1950, Cardinal McGuigan announced that he would like to have a subdivision of the Catholic Women’s League in every parish in the archdiocese.

Toronto hosted the provincial convention in September 1955.

During this period, parish subdivisions became known as parish councils and in the Toronto Archdiocese, councils were divided into eight regions: Durham Southwest, Humber Valley, North York, Northern, Peel, Scarborough, Toronto and York County.

In 1957, the CWL sponsored a leadership course held at St. Michael’s College under the convenership of Mary McDonald. Following the success of this course, a leadership course for members was created by Mary McDonald and Mary Dobell for members of the Toronto Archdiocese. This became the course used at both provincial and national levels.

Mary Dobell became archdiocesan president in 1959.  As St. Catharines and the Niagara region were now separated from the Toronto Archdiocese, Toronto had 114 parish councils.

Toronto again hosted the national convention in 1961, as we celebrated our 40th anniversary. While Mary Matthews was archdiocesan president, the Committee on the Status of Women was established by the Federal Government. Mary was appointed as the CWL representative and continued to make a great contribution there for many years.

The Provincial CWL Convention was held in Toronto. Mary Dobell became president of the Ontario Provincial Council and presented the program for Development and Peace.

Every member was asked to contribute $1.00 towards the CWL Centennial Year Project, Support of the Vanier Institute of the Family, with an objective of $100,000.00.

The Catholic Women’s League was invited to present a brief to the Royal Commission on the Status of Women and Mary Matthews chaired the committee to prepare this, as well as a committee to prepare a League brief on Poverty in Canada. Mary and two past national presidents presented both of these briefs to the parliamentary committees responsible.

During this time, Development and Peace became one of the priorities of the Catholic Women’s League.


The Golden Jubilee National CWL Convention was held at the Park Plaza Hotel in Toronto in 1970. Walk for Peace raised $10,000.00 for Development and Peace.

The first women to speak at World Day of Prayer were Mary Matthews at St. Edward’s Church and Mary Dobell at Holy Name Church. Jean McCann became archdiocesan president in 1971, and emphasis again fell on immigration as Vietnamese and Chilean refugees came to Canada.

Also in 1974, Mary Matthews, Past Toronto Archdiocesan President, became National President of The Catholic Women’s League of Canada.

In September 1975 at the request of Archbishop Pocock, the Archdiocese of Toronto withdrew from the United Way over the issue of abortion and created the ShareLife Campaign in its place.

In 1978, the Toronto council again hosted the provincial convention.

By the end of the 1970’s, 98 councils were registered. North York and York County regions were combined and the regions were reorganized to form seven: Durham Southwest, Humber Valley, North York, Northern, Peel, Scarborough and Toronto.


Commitment to the community was a focus of President Loretta Casciato. Under her leadership, the League ventured into television with a program Faith and Family shown on cable TV.

At our 59th Annual Convention, the Toronto Archdiocesan Book of Life was introduced. In 1981, we celebrated our 60th Anniversary Mass at St. Michael’s Cathedral.

Fr. Bruce Ritter, founder of Covenant House, New York, touched the hearts of all in attendance at the 61st annual convention and thus began a tremendous support for Toronto’s Covenant House.

The Toronto Archdiocesan Manual of Policy and Procedure was prepared by President Joan Hastie, assisted by Patricia Kennedy. Back to Basics/Rediscover the CWL workshops were offered in the archdiocese and ten new councils were formed. Commitment to League development and leadership training was Joan’s legacy.

The highlight of 1984 was the papal visit. Under the direction of Barbara Williams, members of the Catholic Women’s League across the archdiocese made 1200 priests’ stoles which were worn at the Papal Mass at Downsview.

In 1987, under the direction of President Peggy Nastasiuk, the Toronto Archdiocesan Council appointed Patricia Beattie as representative to the board of Christian-Jewish Dialogue of Toronto (CJDT).

With Josephine Covelli as president, 1,100 women came together for the Marian Year celebration of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, 1987, at St. Michael’s Cathedral.


While Betty Anne Brown was archdiocesan president, Most Rev. Aloysius Ambrozic was installed as Archbishop of Toronto.

Before Cardinal Carter retired, he suggested that the way to effect change in society was to have good, faith-filled people on the boards of visible, community and charitable organizations. The League already had 53 members in this capacity, and within a year this number grew to 115!

To highlight the 70th birthday of The Catholic Women’s League of Canada, all 70-year-old members in attendance were honoured at our 1990 annual convention. Lois Lack and Luisa Ceolin, two members of St. Martin of Tours Council, Peel Region, designed and made the winning Ontario banner in the National Banner Competition to mark the 70th Anniversary of The Catholic Women’s League of Canada.

The members of St. Barnabas Council, Scarborough Region, piloted a pro-life essay contest for their confirmation students and it was recommended that we promote this as an archdiocesan project in addition to our Public Speaking Contest.

Joan Hastie was elected Ontario Provincial CWL President.

At the national convention in 1991, we received our mission statement: "The Catholic Women’s League of Canada is a national organization rooted in gospel values, calling its members to holiness through service to the people of God."

In 1995, Dorothy McGuigan became archdiocesan president. Toronto hosted the National CWL Convention. In 1996, there were 100 councils in the Toronto Archdiocese.

In 1997, President Margaret Ann Jacobs, in cooperation with President-Elect Karen Lawless, brought to the archdiocesan CWL councils, the three-year Papal Plan to prepare for the Year of the Great Jubilee.

In 1998, Archbishop Aloysius Ambrozic was elevated to Cardinal. Betty Anne Brown became the Ontario Provincial CWL President.

The Serra Club invited the Catholic Women’s League to participate more fully in its annual Ordinandi Dinner and to join the planning committee.


The Year of the Great Jubilee! The League in Toronto celebrated the 80th anniversary of the national Catholic Women’s League.

St. Mark’s Council in North York Region wrote Canada Post requesting a postage stamp to celebrate the Year of the Great Jubilee. Members wrote their usual effective letters and the result was the Holy Family stamp issued by Canada Post in December 2000.

Initiated by St. Benedict’s Council, Humber Valley Region undertook a major Jubilee project, a monthly Holy Hour. North York joined with Scarborough Region in the funding and planning of a Mass in honour of our Lady of Good Counsel, which was televised at St. Michael’s Cathedral by Vision TV and broadcast nationally on April 26th, Feast of Our Lady of Good Counsel. Northern Region held a series of retreats, one each year from 1997 to 2000, based on the theme of the Papal Plan. As well, many councils had their own Jubilee projects.

Members were very involved in preparations for Jubilee celebrations and took part in all facets of archdiocesan Jubilee events, most notable of which was the Jubilee Mass at the Air Canada Centre in June.

Two highlights of the Toronto Archdiocesan CWL Annual Convention 2000 were an ecumenical prayer service and a Peace Light ceremony.

To close the Year of the Great Jubilee, our Celebrate Life Mass took place on December 8th at St. Michael’s Cathedral, presided over by Cardinal Ambrozic.

In 2001, we celebrated the 80th Anniversary of Toronto Archdiocesan CWL Council. A new national theme The Open Door encouraged us to move into the future with grace and courage.

Most councils were involved in preparation for Pope John Paul II’s visit to Toronto for World Youth Day 2002.

A CWL Time Capsule was chosen as a special project to celebrate the 80th Anniversary of the Catholic Women’s League in the Archdiocese of Toronto. The Time Capsule was blessed and sealed by Aloysius Cardinal Ambrozic at the closing celebration of our 80th Anniversary, a Mass in honour of Our Lady of Guadalupe, on December 12, 2001, held in the recently designated Basilica of St. Paul. This most spiritual evening was a wonderful conclusion to the 80thAnniversary of The Catholic Women’s League of Canada in the Archdiocese of Toronto and a marvelous prelude to many more years of service For God and Canada ....