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