Where two or three are gathered

We are walking along a new path as the Canadian Region of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Loretto Sisters). We met this past weekend to be inspired and to inspire one another.

Gathering at Loretto College

Our new leadership team gathered us together to share the ‘sparks and snapshots’ of our lives and mission. We gathered – sisters, associates, colleagues – in a spirit of interconnection and interdependence, recognizing that our lives are bound up together in the Body of Christ. It was a day of sharing and much laughter, squeezing in as much as we could into our 1, 2, or 4 minute ‘sparks’ of life. We were connected across the boundaries of time and space with our sisters in western Canada; voices on the phone suddenly making present those absent. Our theme, “Where two or three are gathered, there is hope,” a variation of Matthew 18:20, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am with them,” was our guide and source of blessing.

It was truly a hopeful gathering, marking movement out into the new, with announcements of our soon-to-be-open House of Welcome/Discernment, and new explorations for the Mary Ward Centre and others in ministry. We have entered into a period of renewed life and vitality in Canada, modelled by a leadership team focused on participation and collaboration. Each person in our region has an integral role to play in our present and our future.

As a newer member of the congregation, it was uplifting and inspiring to be part of the gathering and to witness the renewed sense of life. Since I entered the congregation nearly five years ago, I’ve felt a tension between institutional contraction and expansion. Rightly, a lot of attention and energy up until now has been focused on a degree of contraction within the congregation; closing Loretto Abbey and moving some of our sisters to Presentation Manor were major changes to community life. But now that these events have taken place and there is some stability, there is room to look outward and to see what newness and possibility God wants to inspire in us.

This abundance of newness coincides, happily, with the start of the new school year. I love this time of year. I still get a thrill on the first day of class. Actually, I get a thrill even just getting ready for it all to begin again. I’ve decided I need a motto for the new year, one that will help me keep things in perspective when, inevitably, I feel overextended. I’ve decided on: Go deep. Keep it light. (And the back-up motto, inspired by a recent visit to Invermara: Ice cream is always a good idea. I’ll keep that one for my final profession ring…)

I want to engage deeply with the material given to me this term. Learn as much as I can. Be serious about learning and knowing. Search for answers and, undoubtedly, discover more questions. I want to take myself much less seriously. Have more fun. Laugh every day. Play tennis and run. Write a TV comedy script with a friend, and short stories and poems. Give the First Spiritual Exercises. Read the letters of Mary Ward. Welcome young women to religious life. Discover newness in places I have not ventured, in people who attract and inspire me, and above all, in the God who fires the world with love and beauty and truth.

Move-in Day at Loretto College
Ice cream is always a good idea…

Mary Ward Summer School – Week 3: A Woman Like Us

St. Thomas Parish, Osbaldwick

We’ve wrapped up the third and final week of the Mary Ward summer school. This has been a shorter week – only three and a half days – but it has been equally intense. We examined the period of Mary Ward’s life after she arrived in Rome in 1621 up until her death in England in 1645. The years between 1621 and 1631 were a time of rapid expansion of the Institute and of tensions with Church authorities, resulting in the suppression of the Institute.

This period of Mary’s life gives something of a balance to the earlier period of her life in that it gives us a reality check on who she is: a woman with flaws. Our earlier studies, and especially the study of her spirituality and her inspirations for founding the Institute (‘Glory’) and its manner of life (‘Take the Same’) and the qualities of its members (‘The Just Soul’) emphasized the virtues and courage Mary exhibited. This latter part of her life, while still demonstrating virtue and courage, also showed us the actions of a woman who made some poor decisions. During this time, she was often severely ill, likely extremely fatigued, burdened by administration and care for the well-being of her Institute members, and consequently, appears to have made some imprudent decisions.

Mary’s tombstone in St. Thomas Parish

While it is true that Mary strove for a new form of religious life for women in a period of Church history that was not ready for it, her burst of apostolic activity [expansion into Cologne and Trier (1620-21), opening a school in Rome (1622), setting up foundations in Naples (1623), Perugia (1624), Munich and Vienna (1627), and Pressburg (1628)] without the Institute being approved by the Holy See, and in certain cases, without permission of the local bishop to step up shop, was not good strategy for being accepted by the Church. We also learned that the foundation in Liege had suffered terribly in Mary’s absence, its members suffering from poverty and hunger, and, in fact, dying from these conditions. Given the suffering in one of her foundations, it is hard to understand why Mary put so much effort into expansion.

We can interpret her activity as being based upon her conviction that she was following the will of God for her Institute, believing that “by their fruits ye shall know them” and attempting to demonstrate the value of her Institute to the Church, thereby securing approval for it. However, the reality of the political situation at that time really required more careful diplomacy from her. In addition, she was initially defiant in response to the suppression of her houses, seemingly based on misinformation, which did not help her cause either. The actions of one of her companions, Winifred Wigmore (who I love for her feistiness but who I suspect had a difficult personality), also contributed to the subsequent Bull of Suppression in 1631.

A letter from a school visit to Mary Ward’s tombstone

Of course, it is easy from this point in history, when we have access to all kinds of information and have a better understanding of the political and religious lay of the land than Mary Ward did, to point out the flaws in her judgment and in her strategy. She did what she was able to do.

This week, then, has been about seeing Mary Ward in, perhaps, a more realistic light. She was truly a visionary woman, grounded in Ignatian spirituality, who believed that women had a significant role to play in the Church and in spiritual and religious formation/education, and she was tenacious in her efforts to have her Institute approved. But she was also a woman so focused on her divine ambition that she expected her members to make significant sacrifices, she didn’t pay careful attention to the conditions of some of her foundations, and she didn’t play the political-religious game well, to the detriment of her work and of members’ well-being. She was, in short, a woman like the rest of us: a woman of divinely inspired potential, striving for the greater glory of God within the limitations of her humanity.

At the end of our summer school program, we made a little pilgrimage to Osbaldwick, the site of Mary Ward’s burial. Her tombstone hangs in the parish there although we don’t know for sure whether she is still buried in the churchyard or if her body had been moved elsewhere at some point in history. Regardless, it is a meaningful place for all Mary Ward women, the galloping girls, to visit. We ended our summer school together with a time of profound prayer and unity with each other and with our foundress, inspired by the words on her tombstone:

To love the poor,
persevere in the same,
live, die, and rise with them
was all the aim
of
Mary Ward who
having lived 60 years and 8 days
died the 20 of January 1645

These words have taken on a deeper meaning after our studies, now that we can interpret them more fully. She loved the poor (the materially poor, the spiritually poor – in England and elsewhere), persevered in the same (of the Society), lived, died and (will) rise with them (the members of her Institute). Mary Ward’s mission and charism are there for the world to see.

With the end of the summer school, it is time for this galloping girl to head home. With a suitcase and a heart full of treasures.

The participants of the Mary Ward Summer School 2019

Mary Ward Summer School 2019 – Week 2: Mary Ward: Ignatian Visionary

Courtesy of Anna Quinterio, CJ

Week Two of the Mary Ward Summer School passed with astonishing speed. The galloping girls spent the week in the Bar Convent, covering a breadth of topics related to the life of Mary Ward. We studied the allegations made against her by Church clergy in her attempts to have her Institute approved. We learned about the apostolic work her Sisters were undertaking in Europe and in England. They were (and still are) truly courageous missionary women. We entered into the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, seeing them through Mary Ward’s eyes, and through the text she and her companions likely used, Meditations upon the Mysteries of our Holy Faith, compiled by the Spanish Jesuit, Venerable Luis de la Puente. We learned more detail about some of Mary Ward’s early companions and read some of the letters she wrote to them. Lastly, we examined the lengthy and complex process of rehabilitating Mary Ward’s name, establishing her as foundress of her Institute, and receiving full approval of her Institute, complete with the Jesuit Constitutions, as she had envisioned, which did not happen until the 20thcentury.

It was a very full week.

There has been a lot to take in over these past two weeks and I am still putting together the various pieces of the puzzle that make up the life of Mary Ward, the lives of her companions, and their work in the world and in the Church.

Images of Mary Ward from the Bar Convent Archives

The personal connection I feel to Mary Ward continues to deepen as I learn more about her. I feel stronger connections to a number of the early companions, too, and feel a great desire to learn more about them (and I lament the loss of so many letters and primary documents that were destroyed in the history of the Institute when Mary Ward’s name had to be suppressed). So many of my questions will remain unanswered.

Early manuscript of the Briefe Relation – Bar Convent Archives

A French translation of the Briefe Relation – the handwriting belongs to Winifred Wigmore – Bar Convent Archives

It was a joy to visit the Bar Convent archives and to have the opportunity to read and, even more, to touch, a letter Mary Ward had written, as well as handwritten manuscripts of the Briefe Relation, the first biography of Mary Ward, written by Mary Poyntz and Winifred Wigmore. It was a thrill, too, to read handwritten meditations from the Spiritual Exercises that the early companions compiled for their use.

Letter from Mary Ward to Winifred Wigmore – Bar Convent Archives

It was so personal and suddenly so real. Mary Ward’s life story was suddenly not just a story, some fable or legend we have passed down through generations of Sisters, but the reality of one woman’s vision, her collaboration with her companions, and their efforts to live the manner of life they felt God had called them to.

Meditations from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola – handwritten by the early companions
Bar Convent Archives

Similarly, learning about Mary’s experience of Ignatian spirituality gave her life story a great depth and meaning that I hadn’t fully appreciated earlier. She lived her spirituality, she lived her faith every day. It is evident in the letters she wrote, in the documents she wrote in trying to have her Institute approved by the Holy See, and it is evident in the letters people wrote about her, regardless of whether they were negative or positive. She embodied the virtues of the Just Soul: freedom, justice, and sincerity, but only because she was so grounded in God. Through her prayer life she strove for the disposition of indifference, to act with right intention, to develop interior peace and spiritual balance, to be humble, to be grateful and hopeful, and absolutely, at the foundation of her being was her love for Christ and her desire to serve him, follow him, and give her life totally to him.

Tapestry of Mary Ward and Ignatius – Italian Province of the Congregation of Jesus – courtesy of Anna Quinterio, CJ

As we enter into the Third Week of the Summer School, Mary Ward’s character and history have become more complex, more nuanced, and truthfully, much more real and human. I look forward to discovering even more about this unique and visionary Ignatian woman.

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

Time to say goodbye

It’s time to say goodbye to my favourite city.

The past three weeks in New York City have been a total joy. I am deeply grateful to Cecilia and Cynthia in our NGO office to making the arrangements for me to attend the High Level Political Forum. And I am grateful to my formation director, Mary, for allowing me to pursue this opportunity. It has been incredible.

This year I am aware that I leave New York City having received many blessings.

The blessing of personal renewal through my engagement at the UN and the chance to do something I love and learn about issues I am passionate about.

The blessing of friendship through my time spent with Cynthia, Cecilia, Veronica, Nancy, Mary, Sheila, and other friends met through the UN.

The blessing of adventure through all of the fun Cynthia and I had exploring the city together (Kabbalat Shabbat at B’nai Jesherun synagogue, kayaking on the Hudson, yoga in Central Park, Amateur Night at the Apollo, Auburn Seminary, America Media – and going to a taping of The View with Veronica) and the chance to re-visit places here that I love (91stStreet community garden, Zabar’s, the Met Museum, Cathedral of St. John the Divine, St. Francis Xavier parish, 9/11 memorial).

Each day I have encountered a God of abundance. A God who is generous and gives unexpected gifts. And a God who gives hope and courage amidst the sufferings of the world – hope and courage to keep working to create the conditions for God’s grace to work through.

I want to end this post with a beautiful prayer Cecilia shared with Cynthia and I yesterday as we had a debrief of the HLPF. Written by Bl. Oscar Romero in 1979, it captures perfectly what we are about.

Prophets of a Future Not Our Own

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent
enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of
saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.

This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an
opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master
builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

(Archbishop Romero, El Salvador. 1979)

To be opened


Last week I spent some time at our retreat centre, Loretto Maryholme Spirituality Centre, with my dad helping with the gardening on the property. We spent many hours pulling weeds (and pulling muscles!) so that, later, we could plant in the newly cleared areas.

I’m so grateful for this place of beauty where we can connect with the earth and where we welcome guests and encourage them to rest and find God in nature.

I’m grateful, too, that the time has come to make a retreat myself. Eight glorious days of silence, prayer, long walks, and afternoon naps await. A time to take the aches and pains, joys and delights of my life, and those of the world (especially the news of the pain and trauma suffered by children separated from their parents that overwhelms and breaks my heart) to my best friend and listen to what he wants to tell me about it all and discover what he would have me do.

I am reminded (as I often am this year) of the words of Malcolm Guite  – this poem that speaks to me so powerfully and that I regularly use for prayer and which I will take with me on retreat:

Be opened. Oh if only we might be!
Speak to a heart that’s closed in on itself:
‘Be opened and the truth will set you free’,
Speak to a world imprisoned in its wealth:
‘Be opened! Learn to learn from poverty’,
Speak to a church that closes and excludes,
And makes rejection its own litany:
‘Be opened, opened to the multitudes
For whom I died but whom you have dismissed
Be opened, opened, opened,’ how you sigh
And still we do not hear you. We have missed
Both cry and crisis, we make no reply.
Take us aside, for we are deaf and dumb
Spit on us Lord and touch each tongue-tied tongue.

Let all of our hearts be opened to hear the cries of those around us and let us respond with generosity and love and without hesitation.

 

 

When the time is right and the soil is ready

God’s grace is often given when I least expect it. A couple of weeks ago I helped facilitate a retreat for women who have experienced homelessness and who are in recovery from addiction. (Read more about the Ignatian Spirituality Project.) I entered the retreat as a facilitator, hoping to be of some assistance to the women on retreat, but I also participated in all of the exercises myself. In that space of mutual openness, with God and with the other participants, I received an unexpected gift of healing.

Much of the retreat involves deep sharing, getting in touch with our fears and woundedness, and sharing them with the group. It’s both a daunting and a liberating experience. Even though I have written a bit on my blog about my experience of my mother’s struggle with alcoholism, and the subsequent healing I’ve experienced, I still find it hard to speak about it out loud. But speaking is freeing and makes room for greater clarity and a new perspective to emerge.

Listening to the group of women share openly about their struggles with addiction and the effects on their family life, particularly their relationships with their daughters, was a revelation to me. They spoke lovingly of their daughters but also admitted that they hadn’t been the mothers they had wanted to be. Their sharing spoke to a part of me that I realized hasn’t yet fully healed. As the women shared their stories, I began to see my own life story and my relationship with my mother in a more complex way and with greater compassion. Elements of my mom’s struggle became clearer to me and I could better understand the pushes and pulls she must have experienced. In the words of the courageous and beautiful women on retreat, I heard my own mother speak to me. Words that I have longed to hear.

The retreat was short, only a couple of days, but it gave me the gift of deeper healing and it has shown me that there are still some tender spots in my heart where my mother’s memory resides. Two weeks from now, on May 7th, will mark 15 years since her death. So much has happened in that time. My life has gone through many changes and I wish she were here with me, but I know that every act of healing is a reconciliation that brings her closer to me and me to her.

Every act of healing also reminds me that I am known and loved by God. In knowing and loving me, God offers me many opportunities to grow, to be made stronger, and to respond with love and gratitude. As we are on the cusp of spring right now, God reminds me, too, that healing is like the tender new life that emerges from the soil when the time is right and the soil is ready.