Pact and Catholic Women’s League to work together on prisoner support initiatives

This is an auspicious year for two Catholic organisations with long histories. In January this year, Catholic Womens’ League President Siobhan Garibaldi and member Margaret von Speyr, met with Pact’s Theresa Alessandro and Marie Norbury, to discuss working together.

Reflecting the energy of the 1200-strong CWL, Siobhan and Margaret brought some great ideas to that first meeting. Pact is the national Catholic charity providing support to prisoners and their families – this is Pact’s 125th anniversary year. When Siobhan put a hand-stitched ‘Cross in my Pocket’ on the table, Theresa and Marie knew it would be something prison chaplains could use in their ministry. By Easter, CWL members had provided 400 handmade ‘Cross in my Pocket’ items to prison chaplains for distribution among women and men in prison for whom faith can be life-changing and sometimes literally life-saving.

Theresa and Marie brought news of Pact’s new, illustrated Stations of the Cross liturgy to that first meeting. In the liturgy booklet, the voices of prisoners and their families describe their experiences, alongside illustrations from the Benedictine Sisters of Turvey Abbey. The CWL used this liturgy to pray the Stations of the Cross online on Fridays during Lent, led by National Secretary Jean Clarke. Margaret von Speyr ordered a batch of booklets and led an in-person Stations service with her Bexhill-on Sea CWL group. They collected generous donations for Pact too.

Siobhan had already spoken to Cardinal Nichols about her plans for CWL and her idea to form a partnership with Pact. Cardinal Nichols is Pact’s President so he understands and is concerned for the welfare of prisoners and their families. Together they had wondered whether CWL members might provide backpacks of useful, practical items for prisoners being released. So often, women and men leaving prison have very few belongings and little money. They may also have nowhere to stay. People in this situation report feeling frightened and overwhelmed – and yet they still hope to turn their lives around and make a fresh start.

Pact has identified two services where they can facilitate the CWL Prisoner’s Backpack project  – in London and in Birmingham. CWL members will work with Pact services staff and volunteers to provide toiletries, snacks, underwear items and above all, dignity, for some of the most vulnerable people leaving prison.

In looking forward to working together, Pact CEO Andy Keen-Downs said, ‘People affected by the criminal justice system are often marginalised in our communities. There are more than 84,000 people in prison in England & Wales today – a number which is growing. I am delighted that members of the CWL will be helping to support the people we serve and the work we do at Pact. People in prison often tell me what a difference it makes to know someone cares about what happens to them. Helping people to make a fresh start is one way of putting our faith into action – and it makes communities safer too.’


About Catholic Womens’ league

The League is involved in charitable work of all kinds. Members endeavour to exert influence in those issues rooted in social justice and peace and particularly seek to make the voice of Catholic women heard in the legislative system on issues of the Family. The League offers members the opportunity to develop and learn new skills, enabling them to fulfil their mission of service to one another, to their parish and to the church.

Website: The Catholic Womens League of England and Wales (

President Siobhan Garibaldi

National Secretary Jean Clark

The Catholic Womens League welcomes new members. Join a branch near you or start a new group! You can find out more by emailing Jean at

About the Prison Advice & Care Trust (Pact)

Pact is a pioneering national, Catholic charity that supports prisoners, people with convictions, and their children and families. We provide caring and life changing services at every stage of the criminal justice process: in court, in prison, on release, and in the community.

Pact’s vision is of a society in which justice is understood as a process of restoration and healing, in which prisons are used sparingly and as places of learning and rehabilitation, and in which the innate dignity and worth of every human being is valued.  We work for the common good of society, taking a public health-based approach. We work at the intersection of criminal justice, child and family welfare, mental health, wellbeing provision and health & social care.

Our volunteers and staff can be found in courts, prisons, probation services, and in communities across England & Wales.  Building on our Catholic roots, we are a diverse, inclusive, modern, and collaborative charity.  We build effective partnerships and sustainable solutions based on our well-established understanding of the systems in which we work, and on our historic values and ethos developed through our 120+ years of service delivery.

Pact, Prison Advice and Care Trust, welcomes parish reps who can join our network and keep prisoners and their families in the hearts and minds of their local parish. Find out more: