The Los Angeles Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women (ACCW) held its 66th conference — titled “Spreading the Light of Christ” — Oct. 10 at the Quiet Cannon in Montebello, where more than 450 women (and a few men) gathered from across the archdiocese to hear keynote speaker Bishop Robert Barron.

Bishop Barron, who is episcopal vicar for the Santa Barbara pastoral region, is best known for his Word on Fire ministry, an evangelical outreach with an audience of millions. He opened his talk by praising the members of the ACCW.

“What an extraordinary contribution this group has made over the decades,” he said.

Bishop Barron talked about Jesus and how he is the ultimate evangelizer.

“Christ is the light. It’s the Church’s job to bare the light to the nations,” he told the packed conference room.

Bishop Barron pointed out the sad fact that 50 percent of people 30 years of age and younger have no religion at all in their lives. He reminded the women present that they all belong to the “army of the Messiah” and encouraged them to have “the confidence to follow Jesus to bring the light — this edgy message to the Gentiles.”

Following the keynote address, the women gathered for Mass to celebrate the liturgy. Bishop Barron presented the homily and told the crowd that “if Christ is in the center of your life that your life will be in harmony.”

A luncheon and installation of new members followed Mass. Angelus News asked Linda Freundlich, the newly installed president of the ACCW, what she deemed the most important contribution the ACCW has made to the Church?

“It’s feeding the spirituality of the women in the church,” she said. “Any woman can attend a meeting. They can hear a speaker, participate in Mass, share in fellowship and enjoy lunch together. This is where information is imparted at our meetings.”

As president of ACCW, Freundlich has a big job. She must visit each of the 14 ACCW districts, and each district has three to four meetings per year.

“I impart information about archdiocesan programs to the members,” she explained. “It is at the meetings where the members learn about new programs, such as Family Life, and take that information to their parishes.”   

The ACCW was launched in 1923 by Archbishop John Joseph Cantwell as an outreach to Catholic women to help the archbishop accomplish his agenda and archdiocesan goals. It stemmed from a time when every parish had an Altar and Rosary Society, with a group of officers directly under the church pastor.

The pastor communicated with the president what the needs of the parish were, and she, with the help of other women, did what needed to be done. The women washed altar linens, kept the church clean, made sure the flowers were fresh for Sunday services and held bake sales to raise funds for special projects.

Times may have changed, but the core goals of the ACCW remain the same. Today, its main priorities are to their parish priests and to communicate the archbishop’s plans and programs to the women of their parishes across the archdiocese. They also provide leadership opportunities, apostolic service and education through speakers addressing a range of important topics, such as domestic violence, losing a spouse or going through a divorce.

Past ACCW president Connie Perales told Angelus News, “The ACCW is a gathering of women to serve our Lord through the patronage of our Blessed Mother. We are a team working together.” 

Perales, who has been active in the ACCW since retiring in 1998, started out as a member of her parish Council of Catholic Women at Holy Family in Artesia.

“I enjoyed working with like-minded women for our church in whatever capacity was needed,” she said. “The friendships that developed have been lifelong.”

Perales has served the ACCW in numerous capacities over the past 19 years, including as executive president from 2007 to 2009, and again from 2015 to 2017. While on the executive board, she has been part of the team representing the ACCW at the National Council of Catholic Women.

At this year’s conference, Perales received the ACCW’s highest honor: The Monsignor James C. Gehl Award. The award, founded by Msgr. James Gehl, recognizes longtime members who have worked hard and diligently for the ACCW in support of fellow members, their parish, the archbishop and the archdiocese.