Catholic Daughters of the Americas’ legacy and outreach celebrated during 110th anniversary Mass
FORT WORTH — Before a June 22 Mass at St. Patrick Cathedral, sounds of laughter, playful fun, and friendships — renewed and newly formed — mixed with a sense of dignity and purpose to celebrate the 110th anniversary of Court Louise No. 209 of the Catholic Daughters of the Americas. The court is one of several Catholic Daughters chapters within Fort Worth and throughout the Diocese of Fort Worth.
“[Catholic Daughters] started in 1903 when the wives of Knights of Columbus members chartered it,” Court Louise event chair and newsletter editor Juanita Zarate said. “They couldn't have a Knights chapter for women because that was for men. So this gave Catholic women opportunities too.”
Court Louise No. 209 — new courts are numbered sequentially as they are established — began in 1913 with 46 charter members.
The members named their new court Louise in honor of Sister Louise Hays. One of the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur, Sr. Louise served as superior of St. Ignatius Academy, adjacent to St. Patrick, from 1889 until her death in 1905.
“Our chapter calls two churches home now,” Zarate said.
Earlier members met at St. Ignatius and later established Our Lady of Grace, a building on nearby Pennsylvania Avenue, which they used until it closed in 1968.
“They had to find another location for meetings at that point,” Zarate said. “[Holy Family Church] was building a new church, so they allowed us to meet there, and we combined members of both.”
Participating members from other parishes joined as well.
“Our members [represent] churches of all the Diocese of Fort Worth,” Zarate said. “I'm from St. Ann Church in Burleson. We're open to all Catholic women in the Diocese — which I put in the newsletter we send out — and invite all Catholic women to join us.”
Zarate will celebrate her 10th anniversary as a member of Catholic Daughters in September.
“I attended the celebration for [Louise Court's] 100th anniversary and that's how I got hooked,” Zarate said with a laugh. “My second response was to join soon after.”
Although Zarate previously served as the court's vice regent, she joked that she's happier behind the scenes as a doer rather than a leader.
“My husband calls me a permanent volunteer,” Zarate said. “But this one is my favorite. It keeps me in my spirituality in the Church.”
For Zarate, participation in Catholic Daughters brings friendship and support. More importantly, opportunities to join with other Catholic women to help others and grow in faith together.
Louise Court Vice Regent Dolores Gutierrez feels much the same.
“This is a national organization,” Gutierrez said. “But I was in awe when I joined. Everybody keeps in touch. There's always something going on with the groups of all the courts and we share. It's amazing and awesome. Spiritually, I've always been close to God, but this has brought me closer [to Him] and to our Blessed Mother.”
Both Zarate and Gutierrez highlighted the important works of Louise Court and Catholic Daughters in general.
Louise Court members helped establish Fort Worth's mission Our Lady of Guadalupe and, in 1922, opened St. Ann's Business Women's Home, a non-sectarian home for working girls.
“We welcomed young women coming to the big city to work,” Zarate said. “That gave them the safe haven of an apartment until they got on with their careers or married. We ran that until 1968.”
Court members volunteer for Gabriel Project among other charitable outreach activities and host an annual Lenten retreat, which attracts about 100 women from throughout the diocese.
“They're invited every year to join Catholic Daughters, or just go on the retreat,” Zarate said. “We put no pressure.”
Since 1983, court members along with area KOC members have co-hosted the American Way Awards program, honoring eighth grade boys and girls from each diocesan school who are judged to best exemplify devotion to God and country.
Unique among Catholic Daughters chapters, Zarate said, is Louise Court's $1,000 annual scholarship to mothers of children hoping to continue their education.
“We have two young ladies who recently became teachers because of help from that scholarship,” Zarate said.
In a nod toward their court's namesake, Louise Court members continue to support retired sisters at the OLV Care Center through donations of food, household, and other items.
Father Hoa Nguyen, who serves as chaplain for Louise Court, spoke of God's call of purpose to all.
“All [Catholic Daughters members] here today have answered that call,” Fr. Nguyen said during his homily. “To live your lives to bring justice and serve through charitable work. To reflect the light of God, live humbly like our Mother, bring Jesus into the world, and participate in the work of the Church.”
The Louise Chapter’s membership remains faithful if small, Gutierrez and Zarate said.
State Regent Carolyn Ritchey, who traveled from Sealy to attend, characterized the state's more than 15,000 Catholic Daughters members as a sisterhood of faith and camaraderie.
“It's not the size of your court that matters,” Ritchey told Louise Court members. “It's the huge hearts you all have that continue to grow in love and in sisterhood. God is truly smiling down on each and every one of you, and I say never stop what you're doing.”
Louise Court Regent Jan E. Law spoke of the chapter’s devotion to the Blessed Mother and desire among members to live their lives the way Christ wants.
“We're glad to be here doing our part among the magnificent things people are doing in the diocese,” Law said. “Our group, men's groups, other Catholic Daughters, and everyone doing our parts to follow in God's footsteps.”