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Britain’s Association of Catholic Women is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2008. The Register speaks with Chairwoman Josephine Robinson.
BY JOANNA BOGLEREGISTER CORRESPONDENT
LONDON — Josephine Robinson is a pioneer.
She won a place at Oxford University in the late 1950s, when
most colleges were closed to women.
She trod the boards of the Old Vic, one of London’s most
famous theaters. She is married to one of Britain’s best-known TV and radio
personalities. And for the last 20 years she has headed up a major Catholic
Robinson is chairwoman of Britain’s Association of Catholic
Women, founded to give voice to women who wanted to affirm their loyalty to the
Church and full support for traditional Catholic teachings. It will mark its
20th anniversary in 2008.
A counselor with a pro-life group for many years, Robinson
gives regular talks to engaged couples. She is the author of two books on
marriage, including the recently-published Marriage as Gift, and has become a
familiar voice on Britain’s radio when issues concerning the Church and women
Tell us about the
Association of Catholic Women.
A group of us got together because we were so tired of
hearing the words “Catholic women” immediately followed by adjectives such as
“angry,” “marginalized” and so on. We wanted to show that this was false — that
as Catholic women we love the Church and give our glad assent to her teachings.
Our belief in the Church is centered on the idea that God
loves men and women equally, and for us as women there is a message in that
Mary is the most perfect human being, celebrated by the Church since its
And what does the
It has grown substantially since those first meetings. Much
of our work involves speaking up in the media. We also run day-conferences and
retreats, publish a quarterly review, organize a major national annual
religious education project for children, take pilgrimages to shrines around
Britain, are sponsors of the annual Festival of Catholic Culture in London and
A major campaign was the production of our “Catholic identity
cards” — over 40,000 of them have now been distributed. These state that the
holder is a Catholic and in case of emergency a priest should be called — and
ask that medical care should include fluids, however administered. This is in
response to the very real concerns about what can take place in hospitals.
There was a lot of publicity and orders poured in from all over the country.
And I mustn’t forget our prayer league — Oremus. We list
prayers for all our work, and the intentions of the Holy Father; it’s a way for
every member, including those ill or housebound, to be involved and is crucial
to the work.
We’re also very much involved with public issues. We set out
our Catholic perceptions to government departments when occasion demands,
especially on subjects that directly relate to us as Catholic women: education,
marriage, family, protection of life.
Were you brought up a
Yes, in a very happy and loving family. I attended a
Catholic boarding school from a rather young age. That was chiefly because of
the Second World War. Children were being sent to safe areas, out of London,
and so I went away to school at 7, much earlier than would normally have been
I must say I enjoyed my schooldays — it was a convent — and
have many happy memories.
Then there was Oxford…
In those days, of course, one went to a women’s college, of
which there were just three. I think we were about 1,000 women to about 7,000
men at the university. The atmosphere was very academic. There were some
brilliant — and very eccentric — women. Dorothy L. Sayers conveyed it
accurately in her book Gaudy Night: It really was a bit like that!
And you were involved
With the OUDS [Oxford University Drama Society] and with the
Experimental Theatre Society (at one point we toured America playing
Shakespeare) various plays, including King Lear. Then the Korean War broke out
and all the planes from Britain were diverted to the war effort. We were
stranded in New York with no money and no means of getting home. The newspapers
discovered our plight and there were headlines back home. Our parents all
started to make a fuss, and we got back eventually.
Then you decided to
become a professional actress on the London stage.
And on tour, working at theaters around Britain. A lot of
Shakespeare: I was Portia in The Merchant of Venice, Olivia in Twelfth Night. I
also particularly remember Elliot’s Murder in the Cathedral — that was at the
And you married. Your
husband, Robert Robinson, has become famous for his “Brain of Britain” series
on BBC TV and radio.
Rob and I met at Oxford and were in the drama group
together. We married at Holy Redeemer Church in Chelsea, where all our three
children were subsequently baptized and where two of them have also had their
weddings. And now I’m a grandmother.
Robert Robinson’s face has become familiar to millions. Has it been hard
being married to a celebrity?
Slightly odd at times. We’ll go into some country pub
together and suddenly there’ll be silence as people recognize him. … But mostly
everyone is extremely friendly. Then there are all the letters, and people who
want to meet and talk.
Where do you see the Association of Catholic Women going now?
We’re extremely busy; it’s all still expanding. There’s
quite a bit of media work, which is a big responsibility.
If you are speaking for the Church, you must be so careful
to make things understood. When we first started, we tended to think: “But it’s
all so clear, it’s all so obvious: Why can’t people simply see how true it all
But gradually you learn that of course people will disagree,
and you have to show the truth and beauty of it all.
I suppose I could say our work is organic: It’s grown
naturally, from one project to the next. And I must honestly say that over these
years all of us who have been involved have seen how our own faith, and our
understanding of the Church’s message, has deepened.
We hold two big open meetings in London each year, and have
been blessed with some top speakers, well-known priests and laypeople, covering
all sorts of topics: Church music, the life of John Henry Newman, World Youth
Day, to list just a few recent ones.
We also have lovely pilgrimages to Catholic shrines, of
which, of course, there are a large number here in England.
And we have the League of St. Anne and St. Joachim: That’s
very close to our hearts. It’s simply an invitation to anyone, asking them to
pray for “all who seek to pass on the faith to the next generation.”
If possible, it’s suggested that people can privately offer
Mass, say once a month, in honor of Sts. Anne and Joachim asking for their
I think I would say that perhaps some of the very extreme
things we were trying to counter — the really ferocious campaigning feminism —
has abated. We can’t ever say that our association has been successful; we
can’t say what part we have played.
We can only say that at least we have tried to speak up for
what is true, especially in the matter of the Church’s teachings.
We’ve come a long way since we started. We’ve deepened our
faith, become more aware of what it means to be human, and have made deep and
Joanna Bogle writes from London.