2019 Annual Report – Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia Provincial President
I am privileged to offer this annual report reflecting on the information submitted by Nova Scotia parish councils. The average parish council reporting response was slightly less than 60%, with a broad variance across standing committees. This response rate was an increase from 2018. There was a positive change in the number of responses by standing committees among several of the reports submitted. This was a positive note indicating parish councils were attempting to fulfill their organizational roles and to report on those committees that remained without a chairperson in their council. Standing committees were most often lead by more experienced senior members, although more members new to the organization stepped forward into some leadership roles. Of great significance was the quality of activities reported by councils, which reflected members were indeed, “women united in a common purpose,” embracing the organizational core values of faith, service and social justice.
Parish councils generally embraced the national theme, Care for Our Common Home, both in prayer and as a focus in presentations and activities. Members gathered in prayer and spiritual reflection during monthly meetings. The rosary played a strong central part in members’ spiritual lives, being recited at meetings and gatherings within their councils, parishes and communities. Deceased sisters continued to be respected and remembered through funeral honour guards, prayer services and masses of remembrance. The Feast of Our Lady of Good Counsel remained a special day, celebrated with masses and social gatherings. Attendance at ecumenical events was best represented by participation in World Day of Prayer services. Members’ dedication to their faith and church was evident in their very active service in church ministry.
Parish councils used resources on websites and in communiques when developing services and programs to enhance the spiritual growth of members. Lay formation programs were available to members but more easily accessed by those in larger communities. Suggestions to allay this inequity included encouraging members living in smaller, more rural areas to seek online programs and the formation of lending libraries, perhaps at the diocesan council level.
Members took advantage of broader continuing education funding for both faith and secular based programs through bursaries and scholarships at all levels. However, the number of applicants tended to be low, which indicated a possible need to promote these opportunities better. Parish councils provided learning experiences through guest speakers and presentations. Genetics was an area that councils reported a desire to obtain a greater understanding, especially in relation to the current issues with bioethics. Past presidents were identified as council role models and mentors. While engaged by some councils for leadership and mentoring roles, honorary life members and life members remained an untapped resource.
Membership continued to decline. The small annual growth experienced through recruitment of new members and reinstatement of memberships was lost by attrition due to members not renewing their membership. In 2018, the provincial council appointed a special committee to reflect on disbanding diocesan councils in light of membership attrition. Its report was presented at the 2019 provincial convention in which committee members determined it would be premature to eliminate diocesan councils. The organizational structure did not drive the financial concerns and leadership issues experienced. Rather, they were affected by membership decline related to member retention and challenges with member engagement. It appeared important to address the core reasons for these challenges rather than eliminate potentially supportive council structures. Another review in five years would be planned.
Among the special committee recommendations was the need for leadership development at all levels and flexibility in structure and events. This would aid member participation and assist parish councils in meeting organizational requirements, goals and values. There was great hope that changes brought through the national strategic planning would assist in meeting some of these needs. The provincial and diocesan councils did initial planning for more localized leadership workshops, including information on the plan. Financial support was budgeted for these leadership initiatives, and strategies to meet the needed human resources for the presentations were explored. To aid in building spirit, the provincial council supported a fundraising project that would assist members to attend the national convention in Montreal, Quebec, for the League’s centennial year.
Many parish councils reported that less than one-half of members were active in the council. Factors affecting this and some of the non-renewal of memberships were lack of interest, age and ill health. Parish council presidents were encouraged to ensure ill and infirm members were supported in their membership fees, even if they were unable to be active in events. Many of these members had long terms of service that required recognition when they reached a stage in life where they could no longer be an active participant in League functions. However, membership service was well recognized at the parish level through the awarding of service pins. Re-affirmation and new member ceremonies could perhaps have been used more by parish councils to celebrate and respect those who were serving as leaders and those who had accepted the invitation to become a sister in the League.
The elimination of the 1-800 number by the national executive/board resulted in a positive change as members looked more to diocesan and provincial executive officers for assistance in problem-solving. For example, information on budget preparation and information on parish council insurance renewal was offered through the provincial treasurer. Previously, parish councils had often reached out to national office for some of this information. Members also looked to websites, social medial and e-mail for information and to stay connected. The Canadian League and officer communiques remained the most popular resources for members to stay abreast of League information. While recognizing the importance of in-person connections, teleconferencing was used more often to reduce time and cost for travel. Other conveniences for council administration, such as the online membership renewal, seemed to require more promotion and support as only about 50% of parish councils used this resource.
Human trafficking and pornography were two main focuses for members from an educational perspective, as well as concerns brought to the attention of their communities and politicians. Sanctity of life concerns and support for the faith development of youth and families and vocations were a priority in parish councils. Members participated in the community viewing of the film, Unplanned, as well as activities such as March for Life, vigils, masses and the 40 Days for Life campaign. Members continued to be strong advocates for better support for palliative care in Canada. They participated in “12 Hours of Prayer for Palliative Care” and engaged in learning events that enhanced their understanding of the experience and importance of palliative care.
Members continued to be actively engaged in community outreach and enhancement of the quality of life for those disadvantaged and those facing injustice. Some parish councils focussed on the concerns and struggles of Indigenous people and how they were called to seek ways to build relationships and a common understanding. Participation in community celebrations of National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21st by some members was a positive step to building relationships.
Members were strong in their actions to relieve the suffering of others and assist in the building of strong futures for children. They provided financial and material support and many hours of service as volunteers to the homeless, the hungry, the disabled and those suffering abuse. Support was given to programs and services for youth and parent programs, skill training and anti-poverty initiatives. Most parish councils provided bursaries and scholarships for youth in their parishes and financially supported school meal programs and the purchase of school supplies for those in need. Seniors and those sick and housebound were provided with special celebrations, entertainment and teas, as well as home and residence visiting that included bringing the Eucharist and praying the rosary. Members volunteered to meet the needs of newcomers to Canada and assisted them in attaining needed skills for employment, such as learning English. Parish councils provided generous financial support to organizations such as St. Vincent de Paul Society, Catholic Missions In Canada, Catholic Near East Welfare Association, Chalice and Save a Family Plan, as well as secular organizations such as the Canadian Red Cross. Many members supported Development and Peace—Caritas Canada as individuals, given the endorsement of the Share Lent and Fall Action campaigns by bishops in the province.
Members took an active interest in governmental affairs and community action despite most parish councils not having a chairperson of legislation. They reflected on the variety of bills and resolutions identified by standing committee chairpersons and those connected with the national theme, Care for Our Common Home. This included positive recognition for the provincial Plastic Bags Reduction Act, participation in an online survey related to the federal government changes to the Canadian euthanasia law and support for The Coalition for HealthCARE and Conscience’s campaign to address concerns around this legislation.
While the number of reporting councils was low for the resolutions standing committee, there was an increase in the number of parish councils that had a chairperson. This hopefully reflected rising interest in resolutions at the parish level, although this standing committee presented a leadership challenge for most councils. As many chairpersons were new to the role, there was a need to build knowledge and confidence in the resolutions process. It appeared important to facilitate a better overall engagement by members in the importance of resolutions to the organization. Parish councils acted on existing League resolutions by following up on action plans, often through letter writing. Information on changes made to the resolutions process was communicated to members at all levels.
In summary, while councils continued to face some core challenges, the annual reports identified a strong, continued passion and dedication to the core purpose and mission of the organization. This, in turn, promises a good strength for building a positive future as the League in Nova Scotia steps forward into the next 100 years.