League of Catholic Women rooted in service, fellowship

| Susan Klemond | March 2, 2018 | 0 Comments

Ginny Vizard of the League of Catholic Women reads to first- and second-grade students at St. John Paul II Catholic Preparatory School in Minneapolis March 1. Vizard, who belongs to Good Shepherd in Golden Valley, volunteers at the school regularly along with another league member, Judith Adams, of Christ the King in Minneapolis. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Marta Ritten Melin, 53, joined the League of Catholic Women 30 years ago because she missed the deep discussions she’d had in college.

Now, the parishioner of the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis still finds stimulating conversations, along with support during different seasons of her life and friendships with women of all ages, in the Minneapolis-based service and social organization.

“You can jump in with both feet or just go in with a toe or not at all, and come back when you have time,” said Melin, who is also the League’s office administrator. Melin’s mother and sister are also members.

Steeped in the history of Minneapolis and the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, the 107-year-old League remains relevant by giving new generations of Catholic and non-Catholic women opportunities to help the poor and find fellowship and spiritual enrichment. The League hopes to attract younger women with outreach projects, retreats, speakers and social events that fit into their family and work schedules.

The League is not affiliated with the archdiocese, parishes or any other archdiocesan women’s organization, but it offers a positive influence with its charitable work and educational programs, said Mary Catherine Jubenville, 57, League president and a parishioner of Christ the King in Minneapolis.

Its 300 members — mostly from the Twin Cities — are ages 25 to 90, with the majority over 50. Ninety percent are Catholic and work in occupations that include a travel agent and an administrator of a pregnancy care center; some don’t work outside the home.

League membership is open to all women who support its mission and serves women regardless of their faith background, Jubenville said. Members can choose their level of involvement.

“We try to draw as many women as we can who are interested in our mission,” she said. And “just as Jesus helped all, we believe it’s important to serve women of all faiths.”

Connection to Catholic roots

In 1911, Archbishop John Ireland asked local Catholic lay women to find shelter for the young women arriving to the area seeking employment. What resulted was the Minneapolis League of Catholic Women.

Through the past century, members of the independent nonprofit have recognized needs in every era, including of immigrants, troubled teens, senior citizens and women with HIV and AIDS. Besides serving in these ministries, League members raised money through charity balls and other events, while organizing social and educational programs for members.

In 2009, the organization changed its name to League of Catholic Women, reflecting its outreach to the entire metro area. After a St. Paul women’s organization called the Guild of Catholic Women dissolved in 2011, the League gained about 20 new members, Jubenville said.

League participation declined in recent decades, as working women had less time for its activities. In 2014 the League sold its downtown Minneapolis building and moved into The Woman’s Club of Minneapolis near Loring Park, which better suits its needs, Jubenville said. It uses some of the interest and earnings from its more than $2 million endowment to fund service to the poor, especially single mothers, she said.

League members also work with seniors and the homeless, tutor youths in Catholic schools, organize clothing drives and a book drive for children in north Minneapolis. Its former downtown parish neighbor, St. Olaf, hosts some of the League’s charitable and educational events.

Among those educational and spiritual events are Advent and Lenten retreat days, book clubs, speakers, and art and garden tours. It will host a panel discussion on immigration April 20 at The Woman’s Center, which is open to the public.

As it seeks to attract younger women, the League now offers more evening and weekend programs to accommodate work schedules, Jubenville said.

“I want to send the message to working people that there are things you can do with us,” she said.

The League offers the good of the Catholic Church through its service, fellowship and spirituality, she added.

“Many of us who were raised Catholic still want to have a connection to our roots,” Jubenville said, “and the League is an excellent vehicle to do that.”

Micro grants target specific needs of women, children

Now in its second year offering micro grants of approximately $1,000 to disadvantaged women and children, the League of Catholic Women can see how members’ philanthropy is reflected in recipients’ stories, like this one:

A homeless woman who requested anonymity received a $1,000 grant for tuition and books for a computer class last fall. She wrote the following to League members:

“I’m looking forward to excell[ing] in my academics, so I can live a better life than the one I am living now, ‘homeless.’ … Your support helped me a lot, and I hope you will continue helping. … I hope to change someone else’s life because someone else changed my life by supporting in financial aid for my tuition.”

The 107-year-old Minneapolis-based League, which sponsors social justice, educational and spiritual programs, has expanded the grant program and its overall focus on philanthropy this year because of its past success. The League wants to enable more of its 300 members to participate, said Mary Catherine Jubenville, League president.

“Many of us are working full time and don’t have the time to assist in tutoring at schools or preparing lunches for the homeless, but this is one way we can have a direct impact,” she said.

The League has allocated $20,000 in 2018 for the grants, which cover specific educational or economic advancement needs for women and children. They are administered by nonprofit organizations. Funds for the grants come from interest and earnings on the League’s more than $2 million endowment.

Nonprofits serving women, including Jeremiah Program, Sarah’s: An Oasis for Women, and Hope Community vet applicants and administer the grants, Jubenville said.

“We want to be giving enough money [and] not just for very temporary needs,” she said, adding that if the program continues to be successful, the League would like to expand it.

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