Catholic Daughters helps women ‘live like Catholics’
By Karen Mahoney
Special to your Catholic Herald
For Audrey Heine, faith is the most important facet of her life. She is proud to be a Catholic and a member of the Catholic Daughters of the Americas.
At 89, Heine, a member of St. Catherine Parish, Milwaukee, values her 40-plus year membership with the international organization. When she joined Court Felicitas #1061, in the mid-1960s, she didn’t know much about the group, but felt that it would help her increase her faith and spirituality. She wanted to become more involved in her parish and community and viewed CDA as a way to begin. Her commitment to Catholic Daughters helped define who she was as a woman and as a Catholic.
“I got into it when Antoinette Carini was regent and her brother was the pastor at Old Saint Mary at the time,” said Heine. “His connection with CDA was through the sailors who came to town; he wanted to help them in any way possible. A lot of them were very young and if they had problems he would help them.”
One of the national projects of the CDA is to support the Apostleship of the Sea, a Catholic organization dedicated to welcoming sailors and providing them a safe haven. In addition to his work with Apostleship of the Sea, Fr. Carini was the chaplain for the young court.
CDA is the largest organization of Catholic women in the United States, Mexico and the Caribbean. Members are united by their faith in Jesus Christ and inspired by his directive to minister to the sick, feed the hungry and clothe the naked. Its motto is “Unity and Charity,” and its mission statement stresses the promotion of justice, equality, and the advancement of human rights and dignity for all.
Court Felicitas meets the first Wednesday of each month at Gesu Church. Under the guidance of Jesuit Fr. Kenneth Herian, associate pastor, members attend Mass at 11 a.m. followed by lunch and a meeting in the parish’s Fr. Herian Hall.
“Fr. Herian is wonderful. By the time we gather for our meeting, he has made coffee for all of us,” said Heine, who serves as vice-regent of Court Felicitas. “During our meetings we discuss various efforts we want to do to support our community and our country. Sometimes we have speakers and each year we can attend either the state or the national convention. The group of women are very close-knit and fun to be around.”
Catholic women 18 years of age or older, who are active members of their parish, are eligible for CDA membership. There are 18 courts in Wisconsin.
From its foundation in 1903, CDA has grown into an organization involved in religious, charitable and educational endeavors. The group originated as the Daughters of Isabella in Utica, N.Y. and made significant contributions to the life of the church and to the benefit of society in the United States and beyond.
During World War I, members acted as nurses, performed clerical work, conducted sewing and knitting classes for the Red Cross and gave parties for weary servicemen. A sister group to the Knights of Columbus, the organization helped the Knights raise $3 million for recreational activities for the enlisted men.
By 1921, the order changed its name from the Daughters of Isabella to Catholic Daughters of the Americas. The first court outside of the United States was established in Cuba and during that time, the organization became separate from the Knights of Columbus.
As it evolved, CDA’s humanitarian efforts grew and in 1997, CDA opened a legislative office in Washington, D.C with access to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. CDA offers support to the bishops in areas such as pro-life issues, domestic policy and social justice matters.
In order to assist courts and members in their humanitarian endeavors, the national office formulated a program called Circle of Love, which offers creative and spiritual ideas for members and courts. This program oversees projects in seven areas: leadership, education, legislation, quality of life, spiritual enhancement, youth and national projects.
Some of CDA’s national projects and charities include: Habitat for Humanity, Apostleship of the Sea, Morality in Media, Smile Train, the Pontifical North American College in Rome, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and SOAR (Support of our Aging Religious).
During her tenure as CDA regent and now vice-regent, Heine has participated in numerous outreach programs. One favorite is Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit housing ministry. Members help achieve Habitat’s mission to eliminate poverty housing and homelessness from the world and to make decent shelter a matter of conscience and action.
“Another program I really like is Smile Train,” she said. “Through our donations, we help children all over the world to surgically repair cleft lip and palate. It makes me happy to know that our small contributions join with others in the CDA to change lives.”
In earlier days, more than 50 members belonged to Court Felicitas. While membership has dropped to a couple dozen or so, the enthusiasm is still there. While many members are older, Heine said it’s important for younger Catholic women to join and become part of the oldest Catholic women’s organization.
“We seem to have a lot of younger members in some of the other states, but in Wisconsin it seems that the younger members are not becoming as involved,” she said. “I hope that more become involved because we need them and we want them. We have junior courts all over the nation, too, and it’s important because we need every bit of religious backing possible and it’s important to not only be Catholic but to live like a Catholic.”
As an avid supporter of CDA, Heine anticipates former Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan will visit the national headquarters in New York.
“He has a great love for CDA and we told him that if he goes to our headquarters that we will back him up in any enterprise he has in mind,” she said.