When St. Vincent DePaul parishioner Theola Copeland attended her first Nashville Diocesan Council of Catholic Women meetings 26 years ago, she came to love the organization. She especially loved that the group was dedicated to addressing issues outside of her local parish and diocese.
Since then, she has taken on many leadership roles within the council, including Commission Chair, Parliamentarian, Treasurer, Vice President, President, and, most recently, Province Director.
The Nashville Diocesan Council’s mission is to support, empower and educate all Catholic women in spirituality, leadership and service, Copeland said.
It offers many different types of programming within those three categories. Among other things, there is a leadership training program for those who are interested in taking on leadership roles within the council. There are prayers the council has written for people struggling with addictions and suffering from domestic abuse. There are outreach programs to help domestic abuse and human trafficking victims. The council is also partnered with Cross Catholic Outreach and Catholic Relief Services. And the list goes on.
The Nashville Diocesan Council is a small part of the National Council of Catholic Women, which acts under the auspices of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and is divided into 26 provinces across the United States.
The U.S. bishops founded the organization in 1920 after witnessing the work of Catholic women’s groups during World War I. The bishops’ decision brought all the women’s organizations together to give them a unified voice, a national service program, and the ability to reach out to each other through a national organization.
This past August, Copeland was named Province Director for the Province of Louisville, which covers the dioceses of Nashville, Memphis and Knoxville in Tennessee and the dioceses of Louisville, Covington, Lexington, and Owensboro in Kentucky.
“A new director is selected every two years, and the current director nominates people who she thinks are qualified to succeed her,” Copeland explained. “I was not the first choice, but the first choice declined so I was asked to take on the role. I was happy to say yes.”
As Province Director, she acts as the liaison between all the diocesan councils within the province. Her main focus right now is helping to promote interest within the diocesan councils and making sure each one is growing and thriving.
“The Knoxville and Nashville diocesan councils are the most active in the province,” Copeland said. “I have been reaching out to other diocesan councils in Kentucky and Memphis. I am also trying to nurture the affiliate councils in Knoxville and Nashville by attending as many of their council meetings as possible.”
For Copeland, the most rewarding part of her involvement with NCCW has been the fellowship and sense of community with Catholic women across the diocese and the country.
“It’s amazing to see what like-minded people are capable of doing when they come together to help a common cause,” she said. “Back in December, when those tornadoes caused the devastation in Kentucky, our province created a relief fund that was sent to one of their Catholic Charities offices and raised about $20,000.”
She strongly encourages all women who are interested in joining to get involved.
“There are Catholic women out there who have never heard of the National Council of Catholic Women. There are local Catholic women organizations in our parishes who could benefit from many of the prayers and programs developed by NCCW. … Oh, they just don’t know what they are missing!
“If you are a Catholic woman, and you feel a need to have an effect in your Church beyond your parish,” Copeland said, “then look to the Nashville Diocesan Council of Catholic Women and NCCW.”
To learn more about the National Council of Catholic Women’s programming or about joining, visit nccw.org.
The Nashville Diocesan Council will also be hosting a retreat at the Cathedral of the Incarnation March 25-26, featuring Gale Wheaton, O.P., as guest speaker. Details about registration can be found on the Nashville Diocesan Council of Catholic Women Facebook page. All are welcome.