Ninety-six years ago a group of local Catholic women who wanted to share their spirituality and help make the world a better place formed the first Catholic Daughters of the Americas (CDA) local court in the Archdiocese of Boston.
That was in Stoneham on May 2, 1909. Today, as Women’s History Month closes for 2005, there are over 25 courts representing the archdiocese in the oldest and largest national organization of Catholic women in the Americas.
Clergy and lay Catholics within the archdiocese play a vital role in this important national organization. Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley serves as the organization’s national chaplain. M. Joan McKenna of Framingham is National Regent, the group’s top national leader. Father Jack Ahern, pastor of St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Brookline, is the CDA’s National Clergy Consultant. The Massachusetts State Regent is Rosemary McHatton of Chelsea and Patricia Devine of Brookline, the current first Vice State Regent, has been nominated to succeed McHatton as State Regent.
They are part of an organization that has helped during the major historical events of the last century. During the Great Depression, for example, the Daughters gave money to help build churches, provide scholarships and aid seminarians. Throughout World War II they provided housing and healthcare and helped the soldiers overseas. During the Vietnam War they aided Catholic refugees.
A comprehensive history of the organization can be found in “The Catholic Daughters of the Americas: A Century in Review,” the book commissioned by the CDA in honor of their Centennial celebration last year.
That Catholic Daughter history is alive today within the archdiocese. Frances Cotton, an 81-year-old member of Court 864 Sacred Hearts in Haverhill, recalls helping soldiers overseas during World War II.
“When some of the ladies told us that their sons or relatives needed something, our court would band together and send them ‘goody packages.’ We also made bandages for the soldiers. I remember my mother crocheting them,” she said.
Frances’ sister, Mary Buckley, walked with her mother and sister over the Haverhill Bridge to meetings. Buckley, a member of the same court as her sister, joined on Dec. 12 1944, also at the urging of her mother. She was a court regent three times over three decades. She is 83 years old.
At the other end of the chronological spectrum is 18-year old May-Lynda Calixte of Medford. Calixte joined when she was 12 years old as a “Junior.” Junior Catholic Daughters of the Americas are age 6 to 18. Calixte is a member of Court Pope John Paul II in Medford. She will attend St. Joseph College in Maine next fall to study accounting.
Calixte first became a Catholic Daughter because “it gave me something to do on Sunday evening.” However, she soon discovered genuine satisfaction in helping others.
“As I got older, I learned how good it feels to help those who have very little and make people feel loved and welcome. The most important thing that the Juniors has taught me,” Calixte says, “is to care for others the way that Jesus Christ cared for everyone.”
The Juniors hold a special place in National Regent McKenna’s heart. One of her goals over her two-year tenure is to increase the number of girls and young women participating in the Juniors and in Campus Courts.
McKenna recalls that, “in the ‘60s and ‘70s Juniors could be seen collecting money at the Boston Garden during halftime for charity and other compassionate causes.”
“And it was a great way for them to see the Ice Capades!” she added
Born in Brookline and currently a resident of Framingham, McKenna is proud of the contributions that the archdiocese’s Catholic Daughters have made. Among her most heartfelt are the generous donations Daughters make to the Pennies for the Unborn Fund during the weekend when McKenna and her fellow national officers March for Life in Washington, DC.
“In the past four years, we have given close to $15,000 to this worthy cause,” McKenna says.
McKenna recalls when his eminence Richard Cardinal Cushing celebrated his first evening Mass at the Boston Garden which the CDA sponsored. She was a Junior at the time. The cardinal later attended a national Catholic Daughters’ convention where he requested seed money to begin the St. James’ Society. The CDA National Board at that time donated the funds the cardinal requested and continues to support the society with the annual proceeds of its spiritual bouquet.
“When I joined the Junior Catholic Daughters of the Americas in 1948 over 57 years ago,” McKenna says, “I never dreamed I would someday lead this wonderful organization of over 95,000 Catholic women. I thank God for such a blessing.”