ST. PETERSBURG DIOCESAN COUNCIL OF CATHOLIC WOMEN
In 1870, only twenty-five (25) years after being admitted to the Union, most* of the state of Florida became the Diocese of St. Augustine.
Fast forward to 1924 and the formation of the Catholic Women’s Club of Hillsborough County at the request of Fr. J. E. Farrell, S.J., Pastor of Sacred Heart Church, Tampa, the Mother Church of our St. Petersburg Diocese. It is here that we begin our story of the establishment of the first Council of Catholic Women in Florida, the Florida Council of Catholic Women of the Diocese of St. Augustine.
Just four years earlier, in 1920, the National Council of Catholic Women (NCCW), a federation of thousands of Catholic women’s organizations, had been organized at the direction of the Bishops of the United States. Catholic Women’s Club individually affiliated with the National Council of Catholic Women in 1925.**
At the conclusion of her term as first President of Catholic Women’s Club, Mrs. R.S. Clark was appointed by Bishop T. P. Barry, Bishop of St. Augustine, as his official representative in organizing a Diocesan Council of Catholic Women (DCCW). In 1926 Mrs. Clark and a group of Catholic Women’s Club members attended the National Council of Catholic Women’s Convention in Washington, DC, as the official delegation from Florida.
If we can imagine the Florida of the 1920’s, we can more greatly appreciate the perseverance of Mrs. Clark as she wrote letters and traveled the state. Five years of work in the service of God at the behest of Bishop Barry reached fruition in 1931 with the organization of a diocesan-wide council, the St. Augustine Diocesan Council of Catholic Women. Our new, nearly statewide council promptly affiliated with the National Council of Catholic Women and Catholic Women’s Club, under the leadership of Miss Kate Jackson (1930-1932), of the Pioneer Jackson Family, was proud to be a Charter Member.
It wasn’t until Eighty-eight (88) years later, in 1958, that Florida was split into the Dioceses of St. Augustine and Miami. Due to the growth of the Catholic population, 1968 saw another split adding the Dioceses’ of St. Petersburg and Orlando to the Catholic map of Florida. In addition to our current five counties of Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Pasco, and Pinellas, the St. Petersburg Diocese, at that time, included the six southern counties of Charlotte, DeSoto, Hardee, Lee, Manatee, & Sarasota.
Bishop McLaughlin, first bishop of our diocese, was desirous of having a Council of Catholic Women, just as Bishop Barry had been, and, in 1968, appointed Anne Tucker Ludwig the first Diocesan President of the new St.Petersburg Diocesan Council of Catholic Women. He appointed Msgr. Charles Elslander of Sarasota, Diocesan Moderator, plus six (6) Deanery Presidents and a Diocesan Board. Msgr. Elslander and Mrs. Ludwig traveled the 200 miles from Crystal River to Ft. Myers to meet with all the pastors, seeking their input. The first Diocesan Board Meeting was held in the Spring 1969; the first St. Petersburg Diocesan Council of Catholic Women Convention was held in St.Petersburg with 600 ladies in attendance.
In 1984, when the six (6) southern counties were detached to become the Diocese of Venice, it was decided by the two Bishops (Venice & St. Petersburg) to leave the Diocesan Council of Catholic Women intact until the close of business of the St. Petersburg DCCW 1985 Convention. The Post-Convention meeting was also the organizational meeting of the two new deaneries of East and West Hillsborough. Because of the enormous job of hosting the Diocesan Convention, Bishop W. Thomas Larkin, Second Bishop of St. Petersburg, had given permission for the women of the Hillsborough deaneries to stay together until the Convention’s conclusion.
St. Petersburg DCCW President Mary Ann Burris conducted elections for each of the new deaneries but because these were mid-term elections the term for these new boards was one year. The St. Petersburg Diocesan Council of Catholic Women was now comprised of Upper and Lower Pinellas Deaneries, East and West Hillsborough Deaneries and the Northern Deanery – Pasco, Hernando and Citrus Counties. In 1987, parishes in Pasco County became the Pasco Deanery; the remaining parishes became the Hernando/Citrus Deanery for ten years until they split to form the two, independent deaneries of Citrus and Hernando.
In 2012, accepting yet another organizational challenge, DCCW President Lynn Erickson guided our diocesan council into the change from deanery divisions to districts with different titles of Mary, Mother of God as name and patroness. Following in the footsteps of Mary Ann Burris, Lynn attended board meetings and conferences, conducting elections as needed.
These are our roots; a brief history of the St. Petersburg Diocesan Council of Catholic Women. While we honor our past, the challenge now is the future. As of June 1, 2013, we formally begin functioning as St. Petersburg Diocesan Council of Catholic Women, Inc. with seven districts included in our corporation: Our Lady of Grace, Our Lady of Life, Our Lady of the Mystical Rose, Our Lady of the Skies, Our Lady of the Snows, Our Lady of the Way, and Our Lady Star of the Sea.. The next chapter of our history is waiting to be written.
May Our Lady of Good Counsel continue to guide us as we serve her Son.
*The Western part of the panhandle was included in the adjacent diocese in Alabama.
**The Catholic Women’s Clubs of Ocala and Jacksonville each affiliated with the National Council in 1921.