Venerable Mary Ward (1585-1645)

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Westminster celebration for Venerable Mary Ward

Archbishop Vincent Nichols today, 23 January 2010, conducted a celebratory Mass in Westminster Cathedral in honour of Englishwoman Mary Ward and the 400th Jubilee of the foundation of the Congregation of Jesus and the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Loreto Sisters).

Mary Ward was a Yorkshire woman who, at a time of severe repression of Roman Catholics in England, felt called by God to found a congregation of religious sisters on the model of the Jesuits (Society of Jesus).

Her vision was for a non-enclosed order of religious sisters who might serve their faith actively as educators and missionaries across Europe, set free from the restrictions of monastic enclosure.

In an era when women were considered intellectually and morally incapable of doing good for themselves, Mary soon came into conflict with the Papal authorities.

Having founded a community of sisters in St Omer in Flanders in 1609, Mary was initially allowed to open schools across Europe without restriction and continued to secretly assist persecuted Catholics in Protestant England.

Her order of ‘English Ladies’ considered itself directly answerable to the Pope without other intervening male authority.

But when Mary travelled to Rome to seek Papal recognition for her congregation of so-called ‘Jesuitesses’, Pope Urban VIII ruled against her refusal of enclosure and imprisoned her as a heretic.

Despite centuries of struggle in a Church and a world unprepared for Mary Ward’s pioneering vision, her sisters today are fulfilling her dream of apostolic service and opportunities for women all over the world.

The cause for Mary Ward’s canonisation was opened in 1929. The historical research was accepted by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in 1995. Theologians completed their investigations in 2009 and recommended unanimously that her cause should go forward.

Mary Ward’s foundation exists today worldwide under the names Congregation of Jesus and Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Loreto Sisters) with around 3,000 members.

The sisters are active in 44 countries across five continents.

A documentary on Mary Ward was launched in Dublin on Thursday by Sr Marian Moriarty, IBVM, General Superior of the Loreto Sisters.

‘Mary Ward – Dangerous Visionary’ tells the story of this 17th century religious and educational pioneer through re-enactments of seminal moments in her life and this is interspersed with historical commentary.

The documentary crew also filmed in South Sudan and Canada where Mary Ward’s Sisters are working at the coalface today.


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