Mary Ward Summer School 2019 – Week 1: The Early Life of Mary Ward

Mulwith, Mary Ward’s birthplace

The galloping girls of the Mary Ward Summer School have been hard at work. We finished our first week of studies with a weekend exploring the Yorkshire countryside, visiting sites of particular significance to Mary Ward.

The gorgeous Yorkshire countryside

This past week we delved deeply into the early life of Mary Ward, learning about the historical world in which she lived: Elizabethan England, the Reformation, and the violent persecution of Catholics. We learned about her family and the early influences on her life, especially the strong women in her life: her grandmother, Ursula Wright, who spent a total of 14 years in prison, at various times in her life, for her faith, and other female relatives who maintained the faith in their homes by housing priests and ensuring Mass for the family. We learned about the lives of a number of women who were martyred for their faith – the legacies of Margaret Clitherow of York, in particular, as well as Anne Line and Margaret Ward (no relation to Mary). All of these women were eventually killed for harbouring priests and were noted for their bravery and strong faith. It’s not a surprise that as a young woman, Mary dreamed about being a martyr for her faith, desiring to serve and honour God with her life. Her whole life was gounded in the struggle for the Catholic faith during a tumultuous and violent period of history.

Ripon Cathedral, where Mary Ward’s siblings were baptized (she may have been baptized here, too, but other evidence points to a secret baptism at home)

The Ward family crest, on which the IBVM/CJ crosses are based (our insignia)

The baptismal font

At the end of the week we looked closely at Mary’s initial spiritual formation, spending a day learning about the Jesuit mission to England, and in particular, Robert Southwell, SJ and his devotional book Short Rules of a Good Life.This book gave Catholics the means for a way of life that incorporated religious and devotional practices into their day-to-day activities. For example, it gave a structure of prayer for the day, suggested how to make the home a pilgrimage site by dedicating each room to a saint (especially helpful because these people had no access to sacred space, such as a church), offered exercises for developing the virtues, and provided other rules of conduct and moral behaviour (such as strict obedience to superiors, i.e. the spiritual director).

The Shrine of Our Lady of Mount Grace – in Osmotherley –  when Mary was severely ill, her companions made a pilgrimage here to pray for her recovery. When Mary recovered, she, too, made a pilgrimage here, in thanksgiving.

The beautiful chapel of Our Lady of Mount Grace

As we read the Rules, we could see how significantly Mary had been influenced by them, noting how they are reflected in her writings and in her early religious practices. Similarly, we could appreciate how these Rules were permeated with Ignatian spirituality and even the Jesuit Constitutions, providing a strong Ignatian foundation for Mary’s future efforts and her Institute.

Ripley Castle, home to the Ingilby family, close relations of Mary Ward

The pilgrim Mary Ward welcomed us to our tour of the castle and told us about her family history here

Some of the grounds at Ripley Castle – I am obsessed with the Yorkshire skies – they are constantly shifting shape – I could watch them contentedly for hours!

Charged with this new knowledge, and with a deeper appreciation of the woman Mary was, we visited sites of meaning to her and to her Institute.

Stained glass in the Catholic church in Bishop Thornton depicting Mary Ward, an attempted foundation at Dole Bank, the Bar Convent in York, and Harewell Hall where Mary spent some time during her childhood – the stained glass was a gift from the family of a former pupil of the school at Ascot

Personally, I have found this week extremely consoling, spiritually. I feel very close to Mary Ward, and like there is a real bond of intimacy growing between us, as I learn more about her, bit by bit. We have taken in a huge amount of information this week (with two more weeks to go!), and it will take more time to integrate it all, and to go deeper into the material. But what I have learned has already given me new insight into and appreciation for the woman Mary was and her complexity as a human being. I also have a keener sense of the tremendous challenge she faced in undertaking to fulfill what God called her to do in founding her Institute. Lastly, I have an even deeper sense of gratitude to God for the gift of Mary Ward in my life, the gift of my vocation to religious life, and most especially, the gift of my vocation to Mary Ward’s Institute.

On to Week Two!

Harewell Hall – it was here the Mary prepared for her First Communion and had the unusual encounter with a rider supposedly delivering a letter from her father to tell her to postpone her First Communion – of course, she knew the letter was false and went ahead with the sacrament

Living in the light

Beautiful St. Beuno’s 

The galloping girl has emerged from retreat.

The gorgeous countryside surrounding the retreat centre

I recently spent 6 days in Wales at St. Beuno’s, a Jesuit retreat centre, enjoying a lovely retreat. It was just what I needed – free-flowing, spontaneous, uncluttered, intimate, and creative. Sometimes retreats are a lot of work. They are not, generally, like a vacation. But this retreat didn’t really feel like work – the only work was letting myself sink into the experience of God in all things.

I had to make a little visit to Gerard W. Hughes, SJ at the beginning of my retreat and say a prayer of thanksgiving for all of the help he has given me through his books, especially God of Surprises and Cry of Wonder

The wonderful labyrinth on the retreat grounds – a very helpful walking prayer

I encountered God in mostly small ways – the community Eucharist, quiet prayers outside or in one of the chapels, through the courtesy of my fellow retreatants, and out in the fields and forests surrounding the retreat centre. Most of all, I encountered God within myself, expressed through artwork – mainly collage, that gave shape and form to mysterious encounter and abiding love.

A collage made after a meditation on the Sun of God (and yes, I mean sun!)

Spontaneous creativity after prayer

My first collage – I was struck by the cartoon “Inspiration for Creatives”

It was a beautiful time to reflect on the activities of the past year and dream with God about what comes next (including the Mary Ward Summer School in York, where I am right now!).

On the final day of my retreat, my director gave me a poem to pray with by Jan Richardson that I would like to share here. It helped to bring together all of the little moments of my retreat.

 

How the Light Comes

I cannot tell you
how the light comes.

What I know
is that it is more ancient
than imagining.

That it travels
across an astounding expanse
to reach us.

That it loves
searching out
what is hidden
what is lost
what is forgotten
or in peril
or in pain.

That it has a fondness
for the body
for finding its way
toward flesh
for tracing the edges
of form
for shining forth
through the eye,
the hand,
the heart.

I cannot tell you
how the light comes,
but that it does.
That it will.
That it works its way
into the deepest dark
that enfolds you,
though it may seem
long ages in coming
or arrive in a shape
you did not foresee.

And so
may we this day
turn ourselves toward it.
May we lift our faces
to let it find us.
May we bend our bodies
to follow the arc it makes.
May we open
and open more
and open still

to the blessed light
that comes.

—Jan Richardson

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paris and London

This galloping girl has galloped around Paris and London and is heading off to Wales to make retreat tomorrow at the beautiful St. Beuno’s.

Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris

The past week has been an incredible adventure with great friends. I spent two and half days with my friend, Catherine, a member of La Xaviere Missionaire de Christ. She generously housed me, showed me her city, and welcomed me into her community for shared meals and prayer. She took me to Montmartre and the University of Paris, where Ignatius and his companions spent much time. I was fortunate to be able to attend Mass at the Martyrium of St. Denis – the location where Ignatius and his first companions made their personal vows to serve God – celebrated by a Jesuit friend from Canada. I visited churches, gardens, important squares and landmarks, and interesting shops (La Procure and La Bovida), and of course, walked along the Seine. It was a whirlwind visit and just enough to have a taste of the beauty of Paris (and what an appetizer!).

With Catherine at the Arc de Triomphe, Paris

Now I’m in London and have spent the past three days exploring the city, visiting a variety of sites to satisfy my interest in both World War II history and Mary Ward history. I was fortunate to meet the London IBVMs and enjoy dinner and conversation together, and I was delighted to spend a day with my Congregation of Jesus sister, Theo, seeing Mary Ward’s London together – visiting churches where Mary Ward would have prayed, the neighbourhoods she lived in, and of course, Lambeth Palace, famous for the daring graffiti she left for the bishop. And later, taking a riverboat jaunt to Greenwich, a DLR trip back westward into the city for a visit to Westminster Cathedral and a walk past Buckingham Palace (for a day’s grand total of over 28,000 steps, according to my Fitbit). Today, I spent hours in St. Paul’s Cathedral, absorbing the spiritual and historical legacy of that great building, and thinking quite a lot about Christian unity.

The stained glass in St. Etheldreda’s, London, where Mary Ward likely attended Mass

St. Paul’s Cathedral, London

Tomorrow, I head off to Wales to make retreat, to finally slow down after a busy year (since last summer’s retreat) and spend some time with the sheep and walking the hills (unless my aching feet protest too much), absorbing all that I have taken in this last while.

The Light of the World by William Holman Hunt, at St. Paul’s

I think I’ll end this post with a lovely poem I came across in the church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields earlier this week, that accompanies the surprising and beautiful East Window, which is inspired by ‘Jacob’s Ladder’:

In No Strange Land 

O world invisible, we view thee,
O world intangible, we touch thee,
O world unknowable, we know thee,
Inapprehensible, we clutch thee!

Does the fish soar to find the ocean,
The eagle plunge to find the air –
That we ask of the stars in motion
If they have rumour of thee there?

Not where the wheeling systems darken,
And our benumbed conceiving soars! –
The drift of pinons, would we hearken,
Beats at our own clay-shuttered doors.

The angels keep their ancient places: –
Turn but a stone, and start a wing!
‘Tis ye, ‘tis your estranged faces,
That miss the many-splendoured thing.

But (when so sad thou canst not sadder)
Cry; – and upon they so sore loss
Shall shine the traffic of Jacob’s ladder
Pitched between Heaven and Charing Cross.

You, in the night, my Soul, my daughter,
Cry, – clinging Heaven by the hems;
And lo, Christ walking on the water,
Not of Gennesaret, but Thames!

– Francis Thompson (1859-1907)

East Window, St. Martin-in-the-Fields, London

Resurrection Sunday

(I took these photos when I visited the Heidelberg Project in Detroit in 2013. Begun partly as a political protest, the Heidelberg Project is revitalizing the blighted neighbourhood of McDougall-Hunt. I was fascinated by this community’s efforts to change their city. )

In her message for Passover, Rabbi Sharon Brous recalls the wisdom of a friend who taught her to challenge the narrative of a story, whether Scripture or the story of her life. She shares three questions we can ask ourselves when we contemplate our own narratives.

We begin by asking ourselves, “When have I been a victim in my life? Can I name one specific moment where I was the victim?” We have all experienced times when we were the victim of a circumstance or of another’s actions. It is important to recognize these moments because they hold a truth about that experience. However, we must not stop there. We need to continue and ask the next question. Looking at the same story, we ask ourselves, “How was I the hero of the story?” Oftentimes, in challenging circumstances, we have been both victim and hero. We have suffered because of external conditions but we have also been graced with agency and the ability to act and take responsibility for ourselves. It is important to acknowledge these moments in our lives, too. And finally, we look again at the story, and we ask, “What did I learn?” We see that in all stories, we may be victims and we may be heroes, but we are also learners. We are always disciples seeking truth. Rabbi Brous says we are “learners on a timeless journey from narrowness to great expansive possibility”.

The Resurrection opens us to great expansive possibility. Pope Francis, in his homily for the Easter Vigil, makes this clear. He suggests that in our lives we often come up against the stone that blocks the tomb. He says, “At times it seems that everything comes up against a stone”. In the readings for the Vigil, we are reminded of the stones that mark salvation history: the beauty of creation but also of the reality of sin, the liberation of the Israelites but also their infidelity to God, the promises of the prophets and the indifference of the people. The stones that mark salvation history mirror the stones that mark our own lives.

In the Resurrection, however, the narrative is changed. The stone is rolled away. And all because of a simple question that is asked of the women who go to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ dead body. A simple question, one we need to ask ourselves, day after day: Why do you seek the living among the dead?

This is the question that changes the narrative. From failure to victory. From victim to hero. From victim to hero to disciple. Jesus is not dead, he is risen. Why do you seek the living among the dead? This question calls us (and calls me very loudly!) to look carefully at our own lives and ask the questions: In what ways am I looking for the living among the dead? Do I even realize that this is what I am doing?

Waking up this morning to news of the bombing in Sri Lanka was devastating. To learn of innocent lives taken and senseless violence that destroys families and communities does not square with Easter joy. It is not easy to encounter the violence that exists in the world, in our cities, and even in our homes. Where is the Risen Christ in a violent world? There are no easy answers.

In the Easter season, however, not only are we being asked to challenge the narrative of our lives, but to do so within the hope of the Resurrection. I experienced this hope profoundly in the Easter Vigil celebration last night. I was reminded that I, and all of us, have been given the Light of the World. Symbolized in the stark beauty of the Easter candle alit with new flame, I saw that the flame is undiminished no matter how it is divided. In fact, the more it is divided (symbolized in the tapers we lit last night), the flame glows all the more brightly and vividly. We take the hope of the Risen Christ, the flame of the Light of the World, out into the world with us and we challenge the narrative of the violence of our world. It is not an easy task but we are disciples who learn along the way, who journey from narrowness to expansiveness.

I’d like to end this blog post with excerpts from the Exsultet, that ancient prayer of the Easter Proclamation. It never ceases to give me goosebumps when I hear it chanted. It proclaims the victory of Christ, the victory of the light over darkness. May it give us the hope our world so desperately needs.

Be glad, let earth be glad, as glory floods her,
ablaze with light from her eternal King,
let all corners of earth be glad,
knowing an end to gloom and darkness.

The sanctifying power of this night
dispels wickedness, washes faults away,
restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to mourners,
drives out hatred,
fosters concord,
and brings down the mighty.

O truly blessed night,
when things of heaven are wed
to those of earth,
and divine to the human.

 

drifting beauty

It has been snowing, off and on, this weekend. The first real snowfall of winter in Toronto. It’s finally really cold. -15C, feeling like -25C with the windchill. I’ve been waiting for this weather to feel as though winter is properly here. When I lived in Calgary, and then in Ottawa, winter was a real presence, showing up sometimes too early in the fall, and often staying past its welcome. But I always enjoyed the cold, even when I complained about it; its sharpness and chill make me feel more alive and invigorated than summer heat.

Living downtown we don’t get much snow. It falls and doesn’t stick around for long. So this morning I went up to our roof with delight, desiring to photograph the snow while it was still fresh and clean and white. I wanted to try to capture something of the frost-bitten rooftops of the university campus that I view from my window. When I downloaded the photos to my laptop, I was taken aback. So busy looking at the snow, wanting to see if my camera could capture its crystalline essence, that I didn’t look above and notice the dramatic beauty of the dazzling blue sky and drifting clouds. How often do I miss the beauty that fills each day?

 

 

A life rich in the living of it

I’ve taken a break from writing my blog for the past couple of months. I’ve been immersed in my theology studies and activities at school and in community. Life has been so rich in the living of it that I haven’t felt compelled to write about what has been going on. But I’ve started to feel that longing again to write, so I will continue as I can amidst the hustle and bustle of life.

Centre Island amusement park closed up for the winter.

One of the great treasures I have been enjoying is the gift of friendship. I feel very wealthy in friends these days, which is a big shift from when I moved to Toronto four years ago and knew practically no one. Bit by bit, I have met a wonderful miscellany of people – at school, in the community, and through various ministries – and I have been blessed to make a number of good friends. People who ask interesting questions, who laugh with me, and who challenge me to try new things and to see life from different perspectives.

Petite admiring the Canadian autumnal flora. 

At home, I feel especially blessed by friendship. I have been growing deeper in friendship with the younger sisters who are living in the Loretto community – Melinda, Maria, and Petite. I feel such a shift in my heart these past few months. After feeling lonesome for so much of last year, lonesome for peer relationships, and female friendships, in particular, I find myself gifted with these fantastic women and a joyful solidarity.

With Melinda and Petite.

A couple of weeks ago we went out to Centre Island to enjoy the autumn day. It was a great adventure – a time for spiritual conversation, laughter, and discovery. Being with these women made me think of Mary Ward, who was ‘apt for friendship’ and who said, ‘Let thy love be at all times rooted in God and then remain faithful to thy friend and value him highly, even more highly than thy life’.

Following the boardwalk to Ward’s Island.

And, of course, I also thought of Malcolm Guite, who wrote about old ways renewed by friends, in “Prayer/Walk”:

A hidden path that starts at a dead end,
Old ways, renewed by walking with a friend,
And crossing places taken hand in hand,

The passages where nothing need be said,
With bruised and scented sweetness underfoot
And unexpected birdsong overhead,

The sleeping life beneath a dark-mouthed burrow,
The rooted secrets rustling in a hedgerow,
The land’s long memory in ridge and furrow,

A track once beaten and now overgrown
With complex textures, every kind of green,
Land- and cloud-scape melting into one,

The rich meandering of streams at play,
A setting out to find oneself astray,
And coming home at dusk a different way.

Cloud-and lake-scape melting into one.

It’s a wrap!

The High Level Political Forum (HLPF) wrapped up in a flurry of activity last week. Sessions from Monday to Wednesday were devoted to country presentations a.k.a. Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs). I was particularly interested in listening to the country presentations where the CJ/IBVM has a presence. Nine of our countries were up for review and I was able to be present for five out of the nine countries.

I paid special attention to the country review from Canada, of course, and was very interested to participate in the session as a member of civil society. I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed in the Canadian presentation. The programs and investments that were highlighted as responding to the SDGs were the same that I have heard brought out to highlight Canadian commitment to maternal and child health. In my prior work as a public servant, I had referred to the same investments time and again. I was disappointed that the government did not have anything new to offer. The good news, however, is that there is a newly created federal structure – an SDG unit housed at Employment and Social Development Canada – that will be the coordinating body for the achievement of the SDGs in Canada. That means there is a point of contact for future consultations and participation.

The most enjoyable part of my time at the UN during the HLPF was the opportunity to work with Canadian civil society organizations. The group of Canadian NGOs that gathered at the UN were inclusive and open to collaboration. If they were surprised to have a Catholic Sister working with them on the interventions, they were quiet about it! Together we prepared two statements with questions that were delivered during Canada’s VNR. (The questions went unanswered, sadly.)

Members of our CJ/IBVM group also attended two civil society events with the Canadian government. The first, an informal meet and greet at the Permanent Mission where the Ambassador and Minister Duclos spoke. Thanks to a resourceful member of our group, we left with a contact for future follow up! The second event we attended was the launch of Alliance2030, a network of Canadian civil society organizations devoted to SDG achievement in Canada. At that meeting, we met representatives from a number of other organizations, including a passionate group of Canadian youth who want to make their voices heard.

The biggest lesson that I learned from my experience at the HLPF this year was the importance of an engaged and committed civil society presence (including religious or faith-based organizations) in development work – whether the work is undertaken domestically or abroad. I’ve long had an appreciation for civil society organizations, and I worked with a number of them as a public servant, but my experience of being ‘one of them’ at the UN was a real gift. I witnessed commitment, passion, resourcefulness, and readiness to work hard to achieve goals.

It’s almost time for me to bid New York a fond farewell – three weeks have flown by!  But this year I return to Toronto equipped and ready with ideas and tools for moving the SDGs forward at home and within our international CJ/IBVM network!