Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

After nearly 60 years, Catholic Business and Professional Women disbands

by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff

(From the Oct. 21, 2010 edition of the Inland Register)

After nearly 60 years, the Catholic Business and Professional Women organization has disbanded. Gathering for the last meeting were, standing, left to right: Jerry Kilmer, Loretta Hayden, Peggy Baird, Kathleen Green, Pat Dunn, Cathleen Ritter, Helen Samsel, Rose DuBois, an unidentified guest, Karen Hathaway, and Maureen Randall. Sitting, from left, are Frances Fabian, Nicky Cook, Evie Crossman, and Cordella Roberts. (IR photo courtesy of Jerry Kilmer)

Sometime in late 1950, Jean Thorpe, of Spokane, invited Maria Masterson and several other women to discuss the formation of, to quote a 1993 historical document by the latter, “an organization of employed Catholic women.” Jean Thorpe met with Bishop Charles White, Bishop of Spokane, and “he heartily agreed,” Masterson wrote. More than 59 years later, on Sept. 25, 2010, the group known from the beginning as Catholic Business and Professional Women (CBPW) gathered for the last time.

Another version of the story of the origins of CBPW came from the late Msgr. David Rosage in a talk he gave on Jan. 27, 2001. This version has Bishop Charles White calling Jean Thorpe with the idea of a “club” for, according to Masterson’s essay, “working women who had no way of meeting other Catholic friends.”

The CBPW archives include minutes from the January 1957 meeting, and these note that Jesuit Father Irwin Toner was there. Father Toner was founding Moderator of the group until sometime in 1952 when Father David Rosage took over because the Jesuits had transferred Father Toner to Portland, Ore. Father – later Msgr. – Rosage faithfully served in this capacity for many years, even when he was pastor of the new Our Lady of Fatima Parish and then in charge of building Immaculate Heart Retreat House.

Annual dues during the early years of CBPW were $1. The October 1953 minutes include the first mention of a CBPW practice that would continue down to the present day. It isn’t clear where the funds came from, but the group awarded its first scholarship at this meeting. “A $150 Music Scholarship was presented to the Sister Superior of Holy Names College,” and in June, 1953 the women presented Spokane’s St. Ann School with uniforms for the girls’ softball team. “Much of the early day meetings were devoted to learning about our Catholic Faith, to hearing related talks, and working towards Philanthropic Purposes,” Masterson wrote.

By October, 1955 the group had more than 160 members, and in that month they, as well as guests, attended a CBPW reception at the Ridpath Hotel to welcome the new Bishop of Spokane, Bernard J. Topel.

The January ’57 minutes include the names of the group’s “Charter Members”: Jean Thorpe, Beth Riley, Josepha Herboth, Isabelle Schaaf, Maria Masterson, Eileen Pierce, and Mary Margaret Diederich.

In her essay, Masterson recalled that prior to the building and dedication of the new retreat house, members of CPBW “for several years journeyed to Our Lady of the Valley Convent, at Kettle Falls, Wash., for retreats. The convent was operated by the Dominican Sisters.”

The early years of CPBW included dinner meetings with unique themes and menus – “German, Italian, Mexican (Guadalupe) being a few.” One of the unique dinner meetings, Masterson wrote, may have been one called “A Night in Bombay.” At this meeting, “Indian Bells were used instead of the usual gavel, and there was Indian curry in the rice menu. Archbishop Thomas Roberts, S.J. (from) Bombay, India, then at Gonzaga U., was the guest speaker.... An exchange student from India demonstrated the art of donning the cloth garment (Indian) women wear, the Sari.”

The essay recalls that in January 1959 the group had its inaugural First Friday Evening of Recollection, a custom that continued for years. “These were held on the Thursday evenings prior to every first Friday. We stayed overnight (at Immaculate Heart Retreat House) and left for work the following morning after an early Mass and breakfast. . . These were delightful Spiritual Lifts.”

Masterson also recalled that at the December, 1959 meeting “young Father James Ribble, then Director of Vocations at Bishop White Seminary ... was our guest speaker. As a ‘shy’ young priest, his message was effective but brief. He read St. Luke’s account of the Birth of Jesus from the Bible.”

The May 1961 CBPW minutes noted that the group had “helped 55 women from DePorres Manor and Booth Memorial (homes for unwed Mothers) (sic) by paying the fee for them to enjoy a Retreat (at Immaculate Heart Retreat House). Many notes of appreciation (arrived) from these young women who had never experienced such a peaceful environment.”

The monthly CBPW meetings were held at various locations over the years, including the Ridpath Hotel, the Desert Hotel, the Elizabethan Room of the Davenport Hotel, and the Roof of the Ridpath.

At this same meeting, CBPW presented a check for $365.80 to Father David Rosage. “Father thanked us, and this brought the total of our contribution to $2,500 for construction and furnishing for a room (at Immaculate Heart Retreat House) which the club donated.”

Another meeting was held at the Spokane Hotel on Jan. 20, 1960, to celebrate the ninth anniversary of CBPW, “featuring,” Masterson wrote, “a Birthday Cake with ‘9 Candles’ and everyone singing Happy Birthday to us. Father Frank Bach, newly appointed as Assistant to Father Rosage at IHRH, spoke on continuing financial problems in ‘getting the project off the ground.’ Jean Thorpe, our first President, spoke to the Club on each becoming well-educated on our Catholic Church position on Birth Control so that we could give out proper information” to the Community on the subject.

Over the years, at meetings volunteer members gave three-minute reviews of spiritual books. In May of 1967 a celebration was held for Father Rosage, “our Moderator for many years,” when he was named a monsignor. “Monsignor has been such an inspiration and the glue perhaps for the longevity of our Organization,” wrote Masterson.

For more than five decades, CBPW engaged in much doing of good in various forms, not excluding cookie sales to raise funds for St. Margaret’s Hall, the Antonian School “for slow learners,” (sic) and other charities. Membership during the 1960s and ’70s remained steady at between 110-130 women. Annual dues gradually rose from $1 in 1951 to $15 in 2010.

Over the years, CBPW’s meetings sometimes seem to have been near-riotously fun. In 1997 at a Davenport Hotel Mardi Gras dance hosted by CBPW, Marie Gracio arrived costumed as a “Flower Child,” including dark glasses and a wig, and she “picked up a guitar and everyone thought she was part of the orchestra.”

In 1996, Msgr. David Rosage spoke to the women, revealing, Masterson wrote, that it was a letter from them that prompted Bishop Topel “to give permission to go ahead with the building of the Immaculate Heart Retreat House.”

CBPW held its last meeting on Sept. 25 of this year. Fifteen women gathered at Spokane’s Rockwood Lane Retirement Community to bid farewell to an organization that accomplished much good, and gave immeasurable spiritual support to “Business and Professional” women in the diocese for more than five decades. The month previous, the final CBPW scholarship of $1,000 was awarded to Katie Frazier, of St. Joseph Parish in Colbert, one of 25 applicants. A 2010 graduate of Mead High School, Frazier submitted the winning application, which included a description of the ways she has been active in her parish. She is now in her first year at the University of Washington, majoring in Computer Science.

Jerry Kilmer, president of CBPW for the last few years, described “the feeling of the (final) meeting” as “mixed.” Some were honestly relieved that there would be no more meetings. “Everyone was a little sad that there would not be any more monthly gatherings of old friends,” Kilmer said. For this final meeting, entertainment was provided by the Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Church, who sang a selection of songs, concluding with “May the Road Rise Up to Meet You,” resulting in more than a few misty eyes.

The primary reasons for the decision to bring CBPW to an end, Kilmer said, was the increasing age level of the members – average about 85 – the reluctance of elderly members to take on leadership roles, and the seeming impossibility of recruiting new and younger members.

“I was very sad to see it end,” Kilmer said, “but it was the right thing to do.... There were hugs all around and promises to ‘keep in touch’ as the meeting closed with a final prayer.”

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