Congregation of Jesus
|Formation||27 September 1609|
|Type||Catholic religious order|
|Superior General||Sister Jane Livesey, C.J.|
|Key people||The Venerable Mary Ward, foundress|
|Parent organization||Roman Catholic Church|
The Congregation of Jesus is one of two congregations of Religious Sisters founded during the 17th-century through the work of the Venerable Mary Ward, who was dedicated to female education. The other congregation is the Sisters of Loreto, a name they shared until recently, which is also spread widely around the world. In England their primary house is The Bar Convent in York, the oldest such community in the country.
The members of the congregation add the postnominal initials of C.J. or CJ after their names.
Ward was a member of an English family which was loyal to its Roman Catholic faith during the period of persecution of Catholics in Tudor England. Originally attempting a life of contemplation in the Spanish Netherlands, she became convinced that she was called to serve in a more active way the needs of the Catholic Church of that period, especially in her native country. She saw education as the best way for women to further their own gifts and was joined in this vision by a small band of other English women. Under her leadership, they established a religious community in Saint-Omer in 1609 which soon opened a school to educate the daughters of English Catholic families.
The community was founded in the spirit of the Society of Jesus, envisioning a life in which the Sisters would not confined to a cloister and would be free to meet the various needs of the people they served as needed. This, however, quickly met criticism and opposition from Church authorities who felt that the place of religious women was behind high walls, separated from society, teaching that an active service in the Church was the province of men only. Ward's response was, "There is no such difference between men and women... as we have seen by example of many saints who have done great things."
Mother Frances Bedingfeld (who would go by the alias of "Mrs. Long", due to the continued persecution), was the leader of the community Ward had founded in London, which had been leading a discrete community life since their establishment. In 1686 she received a request by a leader of the Catholic community in York, Sir Thomas Gascoigne to provide education for the daughters of their community there. A group of Sisters went there in 1686 and opened Bar Convent, where they operated a boarding school for girls.
The congregation had no formal name for many years. The Sisters had been commonly called the "English Ladies" in Europe, or the "Jesuitesses" or the "Galloping Girls" in England. By the start of the 18th they had begun to use the name Institute of Mary. They received approval as a religious institute by the Holy See only in 1877. The different autonomous branches which had developed around the world commonly adopted the name of Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1900.
The community of the Bar Convent continued to operate the school which they had founded when they became established in York until 1985, at which time they transferred its administration to the local diocese.
In 2002 this congregation was allowed to adopt the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus, as had been envisioned by Ward. At that time they adopted the name which she had intended for them.
At present there are some 2,000 members of the congregation. The English Sisters of the congregation have communities in York, London and Cambridge. The congregation is also present in Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Chile, China, Cuba, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Israel, India, Italy, Korea, Moldova, Nepal, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Spain, Ukraine and Zimbabwe. The current Superior General is Sister Jane Livesey, CJ, from England.