WEST HAVEN – September was a whirlwind month even for Maribeth Stewart, a woman who is more than a little active in her faith.
Not only was she installed as president-elect of the National Council of Catholic Women (NCCW) in Orlando, Fla. (that is, after being elected vice president general of the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organisations [WUCWO] in April), but she also found time to marry marine microbiologist Dr. Walter Blogoslawski at St. Lawrence Church.
“It’s been busy, but it’s incredibly satisfying work because no matter what you’re doing, you’re helping someone,” she said. “You’re furthering the voice of women in the church and helping people across all societies.”
Ms. Stewart joined NCCW at the parish level in 2001. She went on to serve as president of the New Haven Council of Catholic Women and president of the Connecticut Council of Catholic Women before being named director of the Hartford Province and serving on the national board of NCCW beginning in 2008.
She was profiled in the Transcript in August 2013 after becoming the first New Englander to serve on the board of WUCWO.
“She does everything at the church,” said Ray Collins, head usher at St. Lawrence Parish, where she has been a lifelong member. “If she didn’t come to church, I don’t know how we’d get along without her.
“She’s a very exceptional lady,” he said. “She’s a caregiver for people who need help, sets up for Mass in the morning and she’s a terrific leader … a very smart lady.”
After her two-year term as president-elect, she will step in as president of NCCW in 2017. Founded by the U.S. Catholic Bishops in 1920, the group addresses issues such as domestic violence, homelessness, pro-life, literacy and human trafficking, as well as supports programs for families, Catholic Charities and Catholic Relief Services.
“She’s a very active person in the church, a very impressive woman,” said Sheila Hopkins, NCCW president. In addition to speaking three languages, coordinating communications for the group and attending meetings at the Vatican, “She is a woman of great faith,” Ms. Hopkins said.
“She is a role model for people who are committed to their Catholic faith,” she said. Plus, “she’s very gentle and very respectful with how she approaches people.”
Ms. Stewart deserves to be in leadership, she said, “but she would never be one to promote herself. She’s a very humble person. Our goal is to provide service to our church and she does that very well.”
Ms. Stewart has served as NCCW’s North American representative to the WUCWO board for the past five years. Her four-year term as vice president general ends in 2018.
WUCWO represents 108 organizations from 66 countries and addresses issues from human trafficking, sanitation and water availability to support for the family, addictions and prevention, and the fight against corruption. Meetings for the board of 27 women from 27 countries have been held in Amman, Jerusalem, Fatima and WUCWO’s headquarters in Rome.
“I find her to be a very generous, kind-hearted, loving person who gives of herself in every endeavor, one-hundred percent of the time,” said Patty Johnson, an NCCW past president. “She is a beautiful, holy woman.”
Added Mary Matheus, NCCW treasurer, “Maribeth is very humble. She’s eloquent when she speaks, she’s very focused and she’s an incredibly caring person. I’m very honored to call her my friend.”
Because the status of WUCWO falls under the Holy See, its work is required to be approved by an assigned ecclesiastical assistant. When in Rome, Ms. Stewart and the WUCWO board meets with the main dicasteries, or major departments, of the Vatican, including the pontifical councils for the family, for the laity and for justice and peace, as well as with the Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin.
Ms. Stewart also serves as WUCWO’s representative to the United Nations in New York City, attending as many as 50 meetings a year to “speak up for our Catholic teachings,” she said.
“One issue that’s close to my heart is the environment because of my background with ecology and microbiology,” said Ms. Stewart, who holds a bachelor’s degree in biology and chemistry from Fairfield University and has earned three master’s degrees from Yale University in ecology and evolution, philosophy and forest and environmental science.
“I was elated with the release of [Pope Francis’ encyclical] Laudato si’,” she said. “It’s so beautiful. It’s like reading poetry and it has such an impact.
“It’s not just about the earth but how interconnected it is with humanity,” she said. “You can’t think of solving the problems of the earth without thinking about solving the issues of humanity,” she noted. “They’re intertwined.”
Currently, Ms. Stewart works as director of quality assurance and regulatory compliance for Ikonisys Inc., a New Haven biotech firm, and credits her company for giving her the latitude to carry out her responsibilities.
She also was installed as a member of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem in 2011.
“We’re all called to do what we’re given to do,” said Ms. Stewart of her busy schedule. “I never looked for these things; I just fell into them. But I’m so grateful I did.”
Colleagues are grateful too. “I deeply appreciate her professionalism, leadership, quietness, intelligence, caring and wonderful sense of humor,” said an NCCW past president, Joan McGrath, of Ms. Stewart’s work on the board. “Her love of the Catholic Church is evident in all she says and does. What a gift she is for so many. Thank God for Maribeth.”