The Spirit of Our Ladies
by Linda Thomas
They are our Mary the Theotokos, our Mary and Martha, Salome and Joanna our Susanna and Saints Mary Magdalene and Mary our very own Holy Myrrh-bearing women, who never wavered nor abandoned.
As immigrants who grew up in parts of Syria's Hosn Valley and in Lebanon excited by the possibilities of what might lie ahead coming to America and what could be accomplished, our founding ladies knew what to do and they got it done!
They worked tirelessly, with determination, without complaint and without any thought of recognition. They did it for the good of the church.
They were saintly examples of true Orthodox Christian women.
Now, more than 90 years later, the Ladies Society of St. George, Norwood is filled with women from diverse cultures sharing the same common mission and the same common destiny.
It started on May 26, 1918, when Esther Deeb, a 16-year-old visionary, who was the first born of Syrian heritage in Norwood, led those first generation of ladies on their journey. She recorded the official minutes of the first meeting. The ladies formed their committees and elected their officers.
That day marked the beginning of the ladies total commitment to the building of a church where they could worship and which would help to reinforce their ingrained spirituality and faith.
These foremothers settled in South Norwood all living within eight blocks of one another, where their church would become the center of daily life for them. They lived as one large family, helping each other to learn and grow.
Esther made their transition to American life easier. She helped them adjust to their new land, serving as their interpreter (since they had no knowledge of English, yet) and when the time came, helped them to obtain U.S. Citizenship and to cope with life in the new world.
Esther encouraged each and every lady to serve as president and to serve in any capacity that would suit their abilities.
The ladies major role was supporting their husbands and fathers in the building of two churches the first organized in 1921 and burned to the ground in 1933, and the newly built church dedicated a year later, which continues to stand today on the same sacred grounds.
If you look at the time frame (1918 to 1933 which encompassed post-World War I and the Great Depression) you can imagine how difficult it must have been to try to support the basics of life, let alone build two churches. But they did this in ways familiar throughout the Archdiocese with sacrifice and a dedication and commitment to their faith.
In 1930, the Girls Club was formed for single women sixteen years and older, and when they married they were welcomed to join the Ladies Society. In later years, the practice changed and both clubs merged into one, bringing together women of all ages who served as trusty lieutenants continuing the activities of their mothers and grandmothers.
In those beginning years, meetings were held in members homes, sitting around the kitchen table or in the parlor discussing ways in which they could raise funds to fulfill their dream of having a church in Norwood those funds being the nickels and dimes they could spare and the annual dues of twenty-five cents.
As in many other communities, the ladies cooked endlessly to raise funds, and did much of the manual work themselves, cleaning the church which included the very large and beautiful chandelier that hangs to this day from the center of the dome with its hundreds of crystal pieces. It was that very same chandelier donated by the Girls Club, who managed to raise $500.00 to purchase it.
As their contribution during World War II, where many of the families had husbands, sons, fathers or brothers fighting overseas, the ladies formed a Red Cross chapter in the church. Every week they gathered to roll bandages for the war effort and donated blood and held bond drives where on a single evening they raised $12,500.
They diligently remained in contact with their servicemen sending letters and even birthday cakes (when they could make the arrangements through the Red Cross) as well as food and toiletry packages. They were very much appreciated by our boys as acknowledged in many of the letters they sent home.
When the war ended, the ladies focused their energy raising funds to support the church, while at the same time reaching out in fellowship, chairing social activities theatrical shows, dances, dinners, picnics, haflis and street festivals, including a community Christmas card.
As a way to bring cheer and comfort to those ladies who were sick or homebound, the Ladies Society formed the Sunshine committee, sending cards to those in the hospital or in nursing homes and delivering plants at Christmas and on Mothers Day. This was followed by the TLC (Tender Loving Care) committee, where the ladies took turns visiting the sick, bringing handmade baskets filled with cookies and candies and get well cards specially designed by the children of the parish.
In the early 1970's, the ladies began an active role in the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Women of North America (AOCWNA), an organization established 36 years ago through the vision of His Eminence Metropolitan PHILIP Saliba. Its purpose is to instill a sisterhood among the women, to serve together in prayer and in charitable works. How proud our ladies were when one of their own was called to serve as president in the New England region.
The Ladies Society has carried out many outreach projects including the Children's Relief Fund, Project Mexico, the Norwood Food Pantry, the St. Nicholas Tree project, clothing and toy drives for children - and those women's shelters here at home.
To begin naming each and every lady who donated her time and energy throughout these several decades would only mean naming them all. But we would be remiss if we did not acknowledge Khouriyee Afefee Abraham (who came from Syria in October, 1953) and Khouriyee Erin Kimmett (who came from Kansas in May, 1995). Each has served us well and has offered generously her talents and unwavering loyalty.
Just as our foremothers had taken up the banner from the first Christian women, our ladies of the 21st century continue to carry the banner forward.