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Two pioneers reminisce on the beginnings of the CWL in Sabah

Theresa Willie (L) and Nancy Fong (R) pose for a shot after the interview at Willie’s residence, 16 June 2017.

TANJUNG ARU – Two pioneers of the Catholic Women’s League reminisced on the beginnings of the CWL in Sabah in an interview with Catholic Sabah on 16 June 2017 at Theresa Willie’s residence here.

The two women were Nancy Fong, 82, and Theresa Willie, 86.

Fong recalled receiving a visit from assistant priest Father Vivian De Souza way back in 1967, who invited her to come and help the church, to which she replied she did not know how to.

Fr De Souza said, “Don’t tell me you don’t know how to sweep the floor, and put flowers on the altar!”  Nancy’s ‘yes’ to the priest paved the way for the birth of the first Catholic Women’s League (CWL) in Sabah.

The initiation of the first CWL took place at a time when it was unheard of that lay women were required to help the parish priest in the welfare of the church, though religious sisters were a common feature in the life of a parish.

Fr De Souza very wisely deduced the need and approached a group of lay women, who were simple in outlook, yet fully committed to love and serve the Lord.

Twenty nine women responded to the call of setting up a lay apostolate for women, of which five (Shiela D’Souza, Nancy Fong, Theresa Willie, Alice Majalap and Helen Anasthasius) were encouraged to take up leadership to form the first committee.

Both ladies remembered how the members relished the joy of carrying out the tasks delegated to them by the rector, among which were cleaning, supply and arrangement of flowers for the altar, polishing of the altar vessels, laundering of altar servers’ cassocks, etc.

Calling themselves “greenhorns,”  they marvelled at how the Lord provided the courage and creativity to overcome the obstacles encountered, especially when they went from house to house, visiting offices, to solicit funds for some necessary parish building extension works.

With the support received from the priests (including Fr AG Lampe who was then parish priest), the parish council, as well as from their own family members, they ventured further and introduced social activities to enhance parish life.  One of the activities that lasted till today was the Christmas Children’s Party, which gave them much satisfaction to plan, cook and provide gifts to add to the children’s joy during the festive season.

On the other hand, Willie shared an observation as she looks at present-day trends and morality of those that make up the Church.

“In those days, you don’t hear any complaints at all.   You never refuse any task given to you.  You take up the initiative to find a way,”  she said.

“There are beauty and humility in accepting your God-given talents and to put them to service,” she added as she recalled how she was always given the task of buying and cooking fish for bazaar sales just because she was good at it!

Today as she looked at her children and extended family members giving themselves over to serve whichever parish they belong to, she accorded it to simply God’s blessing and reward for her own faithfulness.

Fong echoed the same sentiment that God has blessed her too, especially now that she is in her eighties and still raring to go and be actively involved in the life and service of the CWL.

For the golden jubilee celebration, these two pioneers hope that they have provided a role model of “unconditional commitment” for the future generation of women, a commitment that says ‘yes’ and means ‘yes’ all the way through thick and thin. – CS

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