For the past 100 years, The Colonna Club of Nashville has brought together women each month to share good books, friendship, and faith.
On Tuesday, Sept. 12, the group kicked off its year-long centennial celebration with a memorial Mass celebrated by Bishop J. Mark Spalding, as they remembered five members who have passed away in the last year – Evelyn Mulloy, Ann Perrone, Jean Shea, Stephanie Towle, and Patricia Wilson, before conducting their monthly meeting at the Hillwood Country Club in Nashville.
The Colonna Club, a literary club unique to Nashville, was first founded in 1923. Throughout the coming year, the club will celebrate its 100th year with a series of events to honor its rich heritage as it proudly showcases its growth and evolution over the years.
“Celebrating the Colonna Club’s centennial year allows our current members the unique opportunity to take pause and remember those women who, back in 1923, laid the foundation for Catholic lay women to influence local culture through their study of and the promotion of the Catholic faith,” said Michelle Barber, chair of the Colonna centennial celebration.
The celebration events will invite people “to recall the historical significance of the club with special consideration for the commitment of strong generational legacy members as well as individual members who have fostered faith formation, faithful friendships, and faith-based study all these years,” Barber said, “and to reminisce about all that the club has provided to current members of faith-filled and faithful women who are now entrusted to maintain the essence of our founders’ intentions in the passing along of our beloved Colonna Club to future generations of Catholic women.”
The History of Colonna Club
The Colonna Club was originally founded as part of the International Federation of Catholic Alumni. A delegation from Nashville went to the IFCA’s 1922 convention. The theme of the convention that year was the Catholic press, and Elizabeth Breen, Eugene Smith, Anne Demoville, Delia Brew, and Evalyne Howington were inspired to start the Colonna Club.
The club would gather groups of 30 women in various members’ homes for its meetings twice a month. Initially, the club was the literary arm of the IFCA, but eventually it became independent so non-IFCA members could join.
“It is phenomenal that what started out as five members meeting in each other’s homes has grown so much over the years, and that we continue to share good books, friendship, and our faith with each other,” added Kim Teter, Colonna Club president.
The club is named after the Italian Renaissance poet Vittoria Colonna, and St. Francis de Sales, patron of journalists, would become the club’s patron saint as well. Initially, the club studied only religious and Renaissance works, but eventually expanded its offerings to contemporary authors as well. Over the years, the club has invited British author and philosopher G.K. Chesterton to Nashville for a speaking engagement, updated its bylaws to allow 80 members, and given awards to outstanding senior female English students at all three Catholic high schools in the diocese.
“The Colonna Club has certainly evolved since its beginnings back in 1923 but throughout the 100 years our mission is as strong today as it ever was as the club continues to exist for the mutual improvement of its members in literature, art, science, and for vital interests of the day and to promote cooperation among its members,” Barber said. “Typically, the club meets on the second Tuesday of the month beginning with social time before commencing with a brief business meeting including reports from the committee heads of various working committees.
“At each meeting the Spiritual Chair leads the club through prayers before and after study, and prior to sharing a meal together,” she explained. “Then a member presents a literary critique of the book that the club read for the month. At its conclusion, the members pose questions to the presenter and then further discuss the book over lunch.”
Continuing the 100th anniversary celebration
In addition to its monthly meetings, the club will have many special events in the coming months to celebrate the 100th anniversary of its founding. Barber along with Honorary Colonna Centennial Celebration Chairman Patricia Kyger and the Centennial Celebration Committee have special activities planned which includes, but is not limited to, updating the Colonna logo and documenting its history, filming a documentary to capture special memories and note the legacy of the club, and other special touches that will culminate in a celebratory luncheon at the May 2024 meeting.
“We are filming a documentary to capture current members’ remembrances of their time in Colonna and memories of their mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and godmothers being members of the group and how the club has impacted and evolved throughout the years,” Barber explained.
Club members have joined for many different reasons over the years, but sharing faith, fellowship, and a love for good books have been a popular draw for the group.
“I’ve been a member since 2017,” Teter said. “I’ve always loved reading and discussing books with people. When I first moved to Nashville, I was looking for activities and groups in which to get involved.
“I was so excited to learn that our diocese had a group of women who had the same interests as me and explored that through the lens of faith. I was very eager to join,” she continued. “Additionally, the ladies in the club have become my friends, and our senior members are now mentors to me.”
As the centennial celebration officially begins, one thing remains true.
As past members Nan Andrews and Ethel Burke once wrote, “The relevance of the Colonna Club, an institution of women bound by faith and love of learning, is greater than ever. Our individual commitments to improve ourselves and this special club remain as strong as those of its founders.”