WEST HAVEN – By day, Maribeth Stewart oversees quality and compliance for a clinical laboratory. But after hours, she is a voice for Catholic women in the international arena as the United States’ representative for the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organisations (WUCWO).
In fact, she’s the first person from New England to serve on the board of the 103-year-old organization. which has a membership base of five million women from 60 countries. She’s one of eight members of its executive committee, representing the United States and Canada.
Their voices are heard in the Vatican through WUCWO’s establishment as a “public international association of the faithful,” and in the United Nations as the first international Catholic organization to receive UN recognition as a nongovernmental organization.
“It’s fascinating,” said Ms. Stewart of her participation in WUCWO. “I’m working with women around the world who are from different countries, speak different languages and have different cultures; yet we’re all united by our faith. It’s as if there are no boundaries between us. It’s extraordinary.”
A longtime member of the National Council of Catholic Women, she is the past president of its Connecticut council and past president of its Hartford Province which represents Connecticut and Rhode Island. The national council is one of the 100 worldwide Catholic women’s organizations represented by WUCWO.
In 2010, she was named to a five-year term as a delegate to the general assembly of WUCWO in Jerusalem, and was subsequently elected by its board to the executive committee as the representative from North America. At a board meeting in Rome in 2011, she was elected to oversee all public documents for WUCWO as convener of its communications, publications and information commission.
Ms. Stewart said WUCWO serves to promote the presence and participation of Catholic women in society and the Church in its mission of evangelization and human development.
The group was a force in the creation and adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Aligned with the teachings of the Church, the Holy See named it as a public international association of the faithful in 2006, granting it status to speak and act as the voice of the Church and a voice for women in the Church.
As a representative of WUCWO at the UN, Ms. Stewart most recently supported the position of the Mission of the Holy See under the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Francis A. Chullikatt, permanent observer of the Holy See to the UN, at the 57th Commission on the Status of Women in New York, which addressed violence against women and girls.
As a consultant to the UN, WUCWO works to represent the Catholic Church across a range of issues, including food, agriculture, human rights, labor and economics. Current issues identified in a four-year mandate passed at its Jerusalem general assembly in 2010 are reduction of poverty, violence and human trafficking and peace in action.
“It’s an exciting thing to be a Catholic woman today,” said Ms. Stewart. “It’s a privilege to be a part of WUCWO because you realize you do have a voice and you are being listened to. You feel very involved both in your own parish and in the world.”
Ms. Stewart is a member of St. Lawrence Parish, where she coordinates the parish’s caregiver program, through which parishioners visit the homebound with Communion, pray the rosary and drive them to appointments and stores.
She is employed as director of quality assurance and compliance for IKONIYS Clinical Laboratory in New Haven.
She plans to attend WUCWO’s next general assembly in 2014 Fatima, Portugal; and the next regional meeting for North America later this year in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Based in Paris, WUCWO has its yearly board meeting in Rome. Last year, Ms. Stewart was asked to be a reader at a papal Mass in October. She also was asked to be a speaker at the Catholic Women’s League of Canada held this August in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
“It’s quite a privilege to be in this position, and I’m so thankful for the opportunity,” she said. “You feel as if you’re making a difference, and getting the united voice of Catholic women out there to the public.”