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CWL national past president reflects on past two years

By Agnieszka Krawczynski
The B.C. Catholic


VANCOUVER (CCN) — Barbara Dowding is looking back on two years of steering one of the largest women’s organizations in Canada.

Her two-year term as national president of the Catholic Women’s League came during a big moment in Canada’s history.

“What I wanted to really do is to make sure the League was more unified: as one,” said Dowding, now the national past president of the CWL. She is also the vice-chancellor of the Archdiocese of Vancouver.

When she became president-elect in 2012, Dowding took her time choosing a theme for her presidency, which would begin in 2014. She settled on “One heart, one voice, one mission.”

“It’s hard to measure, but the way people reacted to me and to the theme and to the things that we did indicates that they were really happy with the direction we took these last two years.”

A CWL president’s term is always two years. When Dowding stepped into the big shoes, she was suddenly working with a completely new executive team. Most women elected with her were in high-level positions for the first time.

“We worked together, we got along really well, and we all had the same vision. Everyone on the executive bought into the theme.”

The atmosphere in Canada was changing as Bill C-14 presented a monumental shift in the way many people thought about health care. Assisted suicide was one of the hottest topics in the news for most of Dowding’s term.

Before it became legal, the CWL spoke against it on behalf of tens of thousands of women across the country, concerned about the impact it would have on the ill, the disabled, and the depressed.

“We had resolutions against physician-assisted suicide” which Dowding presented to government twice, warning about the dangers of Bill C-14. She encouraged CWL members to sign petitions and to write to politicians.

In her second year as president, Dowding decided to reach out also to the dying, and promote an alternative to assisted suicide: palliative care.

“Instead of fighting so much against assisted suicide and euthanasia, because it’s already here, we wanted to focus on what we can do about palliative care,” she said.

CWL members were encouraged to support local palliative care and hospices, and the organization held its first-ever National Prayer for Palliative Care Day.

The event, May 4, was during National Hospice Palliative Care Week, May 1-7. Dowding encouraged CWL members to pray, run educational and awareness events, sign petitions, and visit the sick or dying that day.

“We raised a lot of money,” all of which was donated to local hospices.

Other memorable moments for Dowding included a trip to Juno Beach in Normandy in 2014. A plaque she had installed there in time for Remembrance Day memorializes the CWL’s gratitude to Canadian armed forces and veterans.

She also went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with some League members and the Catholic Near East Welfare Association. “It was life changing.”

The announcement of the Year of Mercy was also an exciting time. Dowding’s team decided it was a good idea to ask CWL members across Canada to make lists of corporal and spiritual works of mercy they had performed. When the year ends, they will put it all together and send it as a bouquet to Pope Francis.

Now that her term is up, Dowding said she’s happy with what she’s accomplished, but there are many challenges ahead for the CWL.

“It’s seen as an older ladies’ group. Going forward, I don’t think it’s going to be your mother’s CWL. It has to change, and we know that,” she said.

“Change takes a long time in the CWL. We’re 96 years old. It’s like a huge ship, like a big liner, you can only turn it a little at a time.”

Margaret Ann Jacobs has succeeded her as national president.

“As a president, she was extremely affirming, extremely encouraging; she was very transparent,” Jacobs said of Dowding.

“She’s also a visionary. She looked for ways and means to move forward with a better vision of how we can engage and welcome in all of the Catholic community, all women, into our circle.”

Jacobs, as all new presidents do, chose a new theme for her two-year term: “Inspired by the Spirit, women respond to God’s call.” She hopes to continue supporting palliative care, as well as take on some other initiatives.

Dowding’s theme, and her courage to stand up for issues like good palliative care, will continue for a long time.

“I think it will be with us forever because it’s so powerful, so strong. I hope that we can build on it,” she said.

“If we are living with love, care, compassion, gentleness, all of those things, then we are what that ‘one heart’ is all about.”

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