Daughters of Isabella continue to offer inspiration to women in the Church


WARWICK — While it is probably safe to say that most Catholics have heard of the Daughters of Isabella, the organization may not be as familiar to some as it once was, especially among younger Catholics. But rest assured, the organization is still actively engaged in fulfilling God’s will in the Diocese of Providence.

It is one of the largest Catholic women’s organizations, with a purpose of helping women get to know each other better, extend their circle of friends, use their resources to help one another and to be a ”greater force to contend with in the pursuit of good in society.”

From its beginnings in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1897, the Daughters of Isabella was formed as an auxiliary to the Rev. John Russell Council of the Knights of Columbus with a goal to unite “all Catholic women in a sisterhood.” As time progressed, the Circles, as the groups are called, have extended throughout the United States and Canada, and include thousands of Catholic women.

According to Shirley Mello, regent (leader) of the Daughters of Isabella in the Diocese of Providence, there are about 25,000 international members of the group and 126 members in the diocese. Mello invites women over the age of 16 to consider joining this Catholic women’s organization.

The organization’s name was chosen in honor of Queen Isabel of Spain, who was a strong, inspirational, and powerful Christian leader of the 15th century and who remains a model for today’s modern woman. The Daughters of Isabella is likened to the “Facebook” of its day when it began in the late 19th century. It was a place for women to extend their circle of friends, get to know other women and help improve society in the name of Christ.

In today’s culture, while technologies like Facebook attempt to replace a sense of in-person community with a virtual realm, groups like the Daughters of Isabella offer authentic social interaction.

“Today we are starting to re-discover that there is still a need for in-person gatherings and real face-to-face communities, especially for women of faith who want to deepen their faith and help others,” Mello said, noting that given the challenging times in which we live it seems more crucial than ever that Catholic women have opportunities through organizations like the Daughters of Isabella to come together.

Mello explained that the 126 members in the diocese come from a variety of parishes, including nine in Warwick and 11 in the West Warwick/Coventry area. The organization meets 10 times a year at St. Benedict Church in Warwick. The gatherings are more than meetings and involve much more than volunteer activities. They are also a time for faith sharing, prayer, socializing and learning.

Mary Lee Newman from St. Timothy Parish in Warwick has been a member for about 10 years. A big draw for Mary Lee to stay involved has been “the friendships and being able to help people,” she said. “Plus, it brings me closer to God.”

Rita Selby from Christ the King Parish in West Warwick has been a member for more than 30 years and loves the camaraderie she experiences with her fellow members.

“We are all like sisters — it is a real sisterhood,” she said. “These ladies are amazing! I look forward to seeing them and doing good deeds as part of the various charitable acts done by The Daughters.”

Part of the organization’s ministry is to help those in need so when someone presents a need to them, be it for an individual, a group, or a cause, they will decide if they can assist and then go about meeting that need. Typically, they are approached by individuals, charities, churches, scholarships, pro-life activities, seminaries and more, and they respond by helping as they can to meet their financial and material needs.

“We don’t have a budget,” Shirley commented, “but we do two fundraisers a year and this allows us to handle quite a bit of charitable work throughout the year.” The members also participate in retreats. One of their services is to help parishes provide refreshments or additional workers at fairs and events.

Shirley explained how her gifts fit in nicely with The Daughters of Isabella.

“I like to share, and God gave me the talent to organize and to decorate, so helping comes easily to me and I enjoy it,” said Mello, who has been a member since 1962. As regent, she attends the international meetings as the representative of the organization in this diocese.

Women’s schedules may be busier than ever, but the Church still offers ministries like the Daughters of Isabella for those who are seeking more than just cyberspace connections and are seeking to interact in a real community in real time and in real places to make a real difference in the lives of others, including improving their own involvement and experience of their Catholic faith.

The Daughters of Isabella welcomes new members, and encourages any young women in the Church, over the age of 16, to join. The organization will provide them with opportunities to become involved in the wider Church through volunteer experiences. Younger women can also acquire leadership and organizational experience, as well as a greater awareness of how to meet the needs of others.

For women who are mothers with children or are busy professionals, or both, the Daughters can become a source of community and an opportunity to gain some maternal support while interacting with other Catholic women who share the same values. It offers senior citizens a chance to stay involved in the Church while using their years of experience and wisdom for the good of others.

The saying “something old is new again” helps describe what is going on with the Daughters of Isabella in the Diocese of Providence.

For more information, contact Shirley Mello at 401-821-8461 or by e-mail at shirleymello@msn.com. The Daughters of Isabella website is www.daughtersofisabella.org.