Rosemary Azu is hard to miss in a crowd. She has a natural presence that draws people to her. The fact that she is usually dressed in brightly coloured traditional Nigerian dresses also makes her stand out. That natural confidence in her own identity has helped her build her own successful mortgage and real estate business, and raise three sons. But Azu’s face really lights up when she talks about the women at her parish and her Catholic Women’s Leauge council. “Catholic women are different…Catholic women are gifted, and we have to be proud of that!” she says.
It is hard to believe that she almost did not join the CWL and had to be convinced by other women every time she was asked to take on greater responsibility within her council.
Azu moved to Coquitlam, British Columbia in 1993 and looked for a parish to join. At that first parish she heard an announcement that the CWL council was holding a meeting. “In Nigeria the Catholic women’s organization is open to all married women, you don’t need to join or sign up,” she explained. Adding that in her native country when a Catholic woman marries the other married women of the parish present her with the uniform of the Catholic women’s organization.
Her first experience with the CWL in Canada was definitely a very different experience. “I showed up at the announced time and had to knock on the door [of the meeting room]. They opened the door, let me in, and continued with the meeting,” Azu recalls. She sat at the back of the meeting room for two hours listening to the members “all of whom were over 80 years old” discuss council business. At the end of the meeting Azu said the group prayed. “No one asked me why I was there. No one talked to me. I left that meeting and never went back,” she said.
Time passed. Azu discovered that based on where she lived she actually should have been attending All Saints parish in Coquitlam. She began attending that parish and things changed. Azu made friends there and became an active member of the parish community. One of those friends was the woman who served as Organization Chair for the parish’s CWL council. Azu recalls “she kept telling me I should join but after that first experience at my previous parish I said ‘no way, not for me.’”
Azu might have gotten away with saying “no” had her father not been visiting. As fathers do, he encouraged his daughter to put aside her idea of the CWL and try again. He also relayed the story to Azu’s mother who was back in Nigeria. That was the decisive factor. Her mother urged her to get involved. Azu joined the parish CWL and quietly participated in the council’s various activities as much as she could. At the time she had three young sons, was working full time, and planning to start her own business.
In 2006, while her mother was visiting from Nigeria, a friend from Azu’s CWL council asked if she would let her name stand in the upcoming elections for council executives. Azu hesitated but her mother urged her to “be more involved with the women.” A week later the same friend called back to say Azu had been elected council treasurer. She went on to serve two consecutive two year terms as treasurer, followed by a two year term as as Christian Life Chair. “Then I decided I was going to sit on the backbench for awhile,” she said..
That was not to be. A trusted friend and mentor in the parish, who was also a CWL member, asked Azu to stand for Organizational Chair. Out of sheer respect for this fellow CWL member Azu agreed to let her name to stand. She was elected and served a two year term. Again, at the end of the two year term Azu intended to step aside and let someone else get involved. Again the same friend approached and asked her to let her name stand for election once more. Thinking she would end up serving another two years as Organizational Chair Azu agreed. Instead she was elected Council President. Azu’s mother was overjoyed. Azu says all she could think was “I have two full time jobs, I have no time!”
Azu’s mother convinced her to accept this new responsibility. “My mom told me ‘there is something these women see in you that you don’t see yourself.’” She took the leap and accepted her election as president. “I thought I was not ready, and it is true I was not. But you can’t be ready because God makes you ready,” Azu said recalling her experiences as council executive.
Her mother’s advice seems to have been accurate. During Azu’s time on the council’s executive committee, membership has grown. In the the last three years the council has gone from 163 members, to 165 to 175 members. In part it may be due to the fact that “I love to talk to people,” says Azu. She makes a special point of talking to the women of the parish. “We are all members of the Catholic Women’s League by virtue of the fact that we are all Catholic Women. I tell them the only thing they need to do is make it official by filling in the [membership] form.”
Of course one woman can not lead alone, nor can she lead a group that only has meetings but does not take action. “There are three past-presidents in our council, and I rely on them for support and advice. When I need help it is always there. That shows me that God is in this.” Azu said. Together Azu and the women of All Saint’s CWL council work to meet the needs of their parish community and the country.
Azu’s council collects clothing, food and money for the St. Vincent de Paul Society which provides support to people in need. To support education, the council gives out two bursaries each year: one to a student entering High School and one to a university student. Of course, to help foster a sense of community within the parish and provide parishioners a chance to get to know each other the council provides hospitality after Sunday Masses.
Although she says there are still days when she doesn’t know how she will balance the demands of her business, her family, and the CWL council, she wouldn’t have it any other way. “I tell women don’t be afraid to make your voice heard. You can’t make a difference watching from the corner” she said..
Photo c/o Olaf Photo.