Mary Ward (nun)

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Venerable Mary Ward, I.B.V.M.
Mary Ward.jpg
Portrait of Mary Ward (c. 1600)
Religious Sister, foundress and educator
Born (1585-01-23)23 January 1585
Ripon, Yorkshire, England
Died 30 January 1645(1645-01-30) (aged 60)
Heworth, York, England
Honored in Roman Catholic Church
(Sisters of Loreto and the Congregation of Jesus)

Mary Ward, I.B.V.M. (23 January 1585 – 30 January 1645), was an English Catholic Religious Sister whose activities led to the founding of the Congregation of Jesus and the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, better known as the Sisters of Loreto (not to be confused with the American Sisters of Loretto), which have both established schools around the world.

Ward was declared Venerable by Pope Benedict XVI on 19 December 2009; this is the first of three steps on the path to being declared a saint.[1]

Biography[edit]

Mary Ward and was born to Marmaduke Ward and Ursula Wright. Her reputed first word was "Jesus". She was born at a time of great conflict for Roman Catholics in England. She was born in Ripon and in 1595 saw her family home burned down in an anti-Catholic riot. As the home was burning, Mary and her sisters knelt down and prayed for the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary; the children were saved by their father. In 1599 she moved to the house of Sir Ralph Babthorpe at Osgodby, Selby. It was there at the age of 15 that Mary felt called to the religious life. She entered a monastery of Poor Clares at Saint-Omer in northern France, then in the Spanish Netherlands, as a lay sister in 1606 and the following year she founded a new monastery of the Order specifically for English women at nearby Gravelines.

Establishment of the institute[edit]

However,Mary Ward did not find herself called to the contemplative life and instead decided to dedicate herself to an active ministry, whilst still being a religious; this was considered most unusual at the time. At the age of twenty-four she found herself surrounded by a band of devoted companions determined to work under her guidance. In 1609 they established themselves as a religious community at Saint-Omer and opened schools for girls.

Although the venture was a great success, it was still controversial at the time, and it called forth censure and opposition as well as praise. Her idea was to enable women to do for the Church in their proper field, what men had done for it in the Society of Jesus. The idea has been realized over and over again in modern times, but in the 17th century it met with little encouragement. As previous foundresses who attempted such a way of life (e.g., St. Angela Merici) had learned, uncloistered religious women were repugnant to long-standing principles and traditions then prevalent. At that time, the work of religious women was confined to what could be carried on within the walls of a monastery, either teaching boarding students within the cloister or nursing the sick in hospitals attached to the monastery.

There were other new startling differences between the new Institute and existing congregations of women, freedom from: enclosure, the obligation of choir, wearing a religious habit, and from the jurisdiction of the local bishop. Moreover her scheme was proposed at a time when there was division amongst English Catholics, and the fact that it borrowed so much from the Society of Jesus (itself an object of suspicion and hostility in many quarters) increased the mistrust. Measures recognized as acceptable in modern times were still novelties in hers, and her opponents called for a statement to be made by Church authorities. As early as 1615, the Jesuit theologians Francisco Suárez and Leonardus Lessius had been asked for their opinion on the new institute; both praised its way of life. Lessius held that local episcopal authorization sufficed to render it a religious body whereas Suárez maintained that its aim, organization, and methods being without precedent in the case of women, required the sanction of the Holy See.

Pope Pius V (1566–1572) had declared solemn vows and strict papal enclosure to be essential to all communities of religious women. The difficulties which Ward encountered were mainly due to this ruling, when on the propagation of her institute in Flanders, Bavaria, Austria, and Italy, she applied to the Holy See for formal approbation. The Archduchess Isabella Clara Eugenia, the Elector Maximilian I, and the Emperor Ferdinand II had welcomed the congregation to their dominions, and together with such men as Cardinal Federico Borromeo, Fra Domenico de Gesù, and Father Mutio Vitelleschi, Superior General of the Society of Jesus, held the foundress in great esteem. Popes Paul V, Gregory XV and Urban VIII had shown her great kindness and spoken in praise of her work, and in 1629 she was allowed to plead her cause in person before the congregation of cardinals appointed by Urban to examine the situation.

The "Jesuitesses", as her congregation was designated by her opponents, were suppressed in 1630. Her work however was not destroyed. It revived gradually and developed, following the general lines of the first scheme. The second institute was at length approved as to its Rule by Pope Clement XI in 1703, and as an institute by Pope Pius IX in 1877.

At the express desire of Pope Urban, Mary went to Rome. It was there that she gathered around her the younger members of her religious family, under the supervision and protection of the Holy See. She traveled throughout Europe on foot, in extreme poverty and frequently ill, founding schools in the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Austria, and in today’s Czech Republic and Slovakia.[2] In 1639, with letters of introduction from Pope Urban to Queen Henrietta Maria of France, Mary returned to England and established herself in London. There she and her companions established free schools for the poor, nursed the sick and visited prisoners. In 1642 she journeyed northward with her household and established a convent at Heworth, near York. She died in St. Mary's school.

After her death there, her companions thought it best not to bury her body near the city center where she died because of the dangers of desecration. Instead they sought a less conspicuous place and found a happy solution by arranging for her to be buried in the Osbaldwick Churchyard, about a mile away. There, as the record says, "the vicar was honest enough to be bribed"! Her burial on 1 February 1645 was also attended by Anglicans, she was much admired and revered by many local people, both Catholic and Protestant.[3]

Ward was formally recognized as the foundress of the two religious institutes by the Holy See only in 1909.[2] Her work is celebrated in an exhibit in the museum of the Bar Convent in York.[4] She was mentioned by Pope Benedict XVI during his UK visit.[5]

Legacy[edit]

For the 400th anniversary of her birth in 1985, a high school in Toronto, Ontario, was named after her.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Promulgation of 19 December 2009
  2. ^ a b "Mary Ward". Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary. 
  3. ^ | The parish of St Thomas Osbaldwick with St James Murton | About the Parish | Mary Ward |
  4. ^ Museum and Archives, The Bar Convent, retrieved 16 October 2011 
  5. ^ "Pope Benedict XVI addresses British religious". The British Province of Carmelites. 17 September 2010. Retrieved 18 March 2012. "The Holy Father spoke of the contribution of religious orders to the life of the Church and Society in many spheres, and made particular mention of the Venerable Mary Ward." 

Bibliography and External links[edit]

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