| By Mary-Catherine Scarlett

Women’s Counterpart to Knights of Columbus Initiates Works of Mercy in Waco

While most Catholics are familiar with the Knights of Columbus through their ubiquitous service projects, pancake breakfasts, fish fries and local philanthropy, fewer people know about the women’s auxiliary group known as the Columbiettes. In fact, there is only one group of Columbiettes in the Diocese of Austin. 

The Columbiettes Waco Auxiliary are a fast-growing group of Catholic women with a shared mission who come from all different parishes throughout the Waco Deanery. Sarah Ryan, current president of the local group, described the Columbiettes as “a community of faithful women who pray together and support each other as we try to enrich and enliven our community.” 

The group’s diverse array of projects has significantly affected Waco area parishes and the broader community since its inception. Ryan and her predecessor, Elena Carrizales, have both led the group to achieve its goals and set new ones. 

One of Ryan’s recent projects was bringing a dramatized performance of Blessed Augustus Tolton’s life to the Waco area. While in Louisiana, Ryan had witnessed a sacramental renewal spurred by a Saint Luke Productions play about the life of St. John Vianney. 

“It was captivating and powerful and brought many parishioners in that diocese to seek the sacraments, especially penance, as that saint was a great confessor. I wanted, if given the chance, to bring one of their performances to my parish. As president of the Columbiettes Waco Auxiliary, I had that opportunity,” Ryan said. 

DeKarlos Blackmon, the secretariat director of Life, Charity and Justice for the Diocese of Austin, and Ryan, with the help of her fellow Columbiettes, helped bring Tolton: From Slave to Priest to Austin, Killeen and Waco this past January. 

The Columbiettes have also organized donations and created handmade items for Care Net pregnancy center and initiated the Fueled by Faith program, which provides meals for the homeless. The group regularly visits a local nursing home, participates in 40 Days for Life and coordinates food drives, among other projects. 

“The Columbiettes’ volunteerism in the community and donations to local organizations positively impacts the lives of mothers in crisis, youth living in poverty, the homeless, the elderly, and families facing food insecurities,” said Teresa Chavez, an active member, committee chair and former vice president of the group. 

Ryan described a particularly memorable nursing home outreach event that the group executed last year. With the help of some young volunteers, the group created 590 handmade Christmas gifts and personally delivered them to the residents of seven different care facilities in the area. 

“This year, although we were not allowed to visit room by room, with some of the youth of the parish, the Columbiettes sang carols with the residents and gave them the gifts we had prepared,” Ryan said. 

The group hopes to continue expanding. Chavez hopes the group will “continue to grow in their love and relationship with Christ to show Christ to others through works of mercy.” 

Ryan envisions a growth in the number and diversity of the Columbiettes as time goes on. 

“In the future, we would like to share our ministries with women from each parish in Waco,” Ryan said. “We’d like to have more interaction with our Spanish-speaking communities.” Ryan is also hoping to revive community activities at local parishes, such as karaoke dinners and game nights. 

As the Columbiettes grow and expand — perhaps eventually into other deaneries throughout the diocese — Ryan hopes they will exemplify leadership as active members of each parish. Ryan explained that, just as being a member of the Knight of Columbus “goes above and beyond to be a visible sign for others in his community to bring support. I want the Columbiettes to be seen as such and be known as individuals upon whom you can depend to serve their parish and community.” 

The Waco group’s volunteerism and enthusiasm have not gone unnoticed. 

“For five years, every year, the Waco Columbiettes have earned the Margaret Mary J. Mangan Award,” Ryan said. “Our Supreme Council recognized our extraordinary achievements in such categories as growth, religious activities and good works. We ask the community within the diocese to pray for our efforts to continue, increase and give glory to God.”

The Columbiettes is a national organization with more than 14,500 Catholic women. To join or start a chapter of Columbiettes, visit www.columbiettes.com or call (877) 309-6231.

Mary-Catherine Scarlett is a parishioner of St. Louis Parish in Waco. She came to Texas by way of Dallas, where she received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Dallas. She enjoys spending time in nature, writing, reading and Irish dancing.