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.

Summer days

A month and a bit have passed since I left New York City. (The withdrawal pains have subsided.) It has been a busy time with lots of activity and travel and not much time to tend to this blog. It has been a relaxing time as well, like an extended summer holiday.

I left New York for Saskatoon and made a five-day retreat with twenty-one other young religious from across Canada, facilitated by the wise and insightful Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI (more to come on the talks from the retreat in a future blog post). It was an energizing experience and consoling to meet other religious who share similar concerns, hopes, and dreams for the future of religious life in Canada.

The view of the South Saskatchewan River from Queen’s House Retreat Centre in Saskatoon

After the retreat, I spent time with family in Rosthern, SK and then in Calgary, AB. It was so good to be reunited with family and friends again, most of whom I hadn’t seen in about two years, before I went to the Philippines for the canonical year of my novitiate. Naturally, there was lots to share and to catch up on. It felt a bit strange at times relating my experiences of the Philippines because my year there seemed like a year out of time. There was an odd feeling of time displacement; I couldn’t keep track of the time I’d been away. Regardless, it was so good to see everyone and to feel connected again. Being with my family reminds me of who I am and where I have come from, and I am grateful for that. My family is very much a part of my spiritual journey even though I don’t get to see them very often.

The statue of Our Lady of the Prairies at Queen’s House

After a week or so back in Toronto, I made a trip to Ottawa. I hadn’t been to Ottawa for nearly two years so again there was that sense of time displacement. It was coupled initially with a feeling of nostalgia for my old life. I visited my old house (even did a bit of yard work there), met with friends and colleagues, and visited my old parish (I happened to be there just in time to celebrate the installation of its two new pastors). I had time to catch up with good friends and to glimpse again the life that I have missed off and on these past few years. As the visit progressed, I noticed that the feeling of nostalgia lessened and was replaced by a feeling of deep gratitude for all that I had experienced in Ottawa during the 10 years I lived there. I came to recognize that that part of my life is truly over now and I do not desire to go back and resume it. It was a beautiful and life-giving season in my life but now I am called to something else and to be somewhere else and I desire with all of my being to give myself to this new life and new path that I am walking along.

I think this is a good place to be – mentally, spiritually, etc., – as I prepare to make a discernment retreat next week that will lead up to making my first vows (potentially in December). I am not caught up in false feelings about the past and I am not bound by expectations for the future. I feel that I am calmly in the present, ready to be with God in a sacred space, and to talk about all that has gone on in my life over the past few years and all of the graces, gifts, and opportunities that God has been giving me as I move closer to making my first vows.

Please keep me in your prayers starting Monday as I make an eight-day silent retreat at Loyola House in Guelph. I will keep you in my prayers as well. Love and blessings to all!

God went mad out of love for us

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I’ve been reading a lot these days (admittedly, this is not new behaviour).

I just finished an excellent biography of Flannery O’Connor (Flannery by Brad Gooch) and I’m partway through Ignatius of Loyola: The Psychology of a Saint by W.W. Meissner, SJ. It’s a weighty book, both physically and mentally, but very interesting. On my subway journeys, however, I am reading Seek God Everywhere: Reflections on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius by Anthony de Mello, SJ. (Can you sense my current Ignatian theme?) Anyway, this morning I became totally engrossed in it (so engrossed, in fact, that I missed my subway stop and had to loop around back – whoops!). This passage had me caught up:

At the root of pure creation there is an act of infinite love. God falls for us; this is the unbelievable news. That means he would lose himself for us. This is too shocking that God would be a victim of the passion that we call love. Then we are told the shocking thing that God loves us so much that he gave up his goodness for our sake! Hello! This is a bit too crazy. God went mad out of love for us. Then we must be very lovely. What we have stressed in the past is how lovely God must be that he can love us like this. But nobody has yet said how lovely we must be, that God could fall for us like this. Both are true.

Think of it! God went mad out of love for me and you!

That’s something to savour on the way to work each day.

Sickness and healing

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(Photo: Conversion on the sick-bed / by A. Chevalier Taylor, From the Votive Chapel at Wimbledon / http://www.heritage-history.com/?c=read&author=pollen&book=loyola&story=conversion)

I’m just getting over a bout of pneumonia. I came down with some kind of cold or flu on Boxing Day when I was in Calgary and it turned my Christmas vacation plans upside down. I ended up staying 5 days longer so that I could recover enough to travel. I was shocked, a few days after I returned to Toronto, to feel the symptoms return. I went to see a doctor and found out that the illness had developed into pneumonia.

Consequently, I spent the entirety of this past workweek at home in bed, recuperating. I can’t recall when I’ve ever been this sick. It was very discouraging. Generally, I am quite a healthy person and I felt like my body had betrayed me. I was worried because I had already missed time at work for being sick and stuck in Calgary and I felt anxious about taking even more time off. So it was not with joy that I took to my bed.

I received wonderful care from the sisters though. Sr. Marianna was my nursemaid for many days, bringing me tea and freshly squeezed orange juice, and making sure I was okay. I was offered a space in the infirmary if I felt I would recuperate better there (I chose to stay in my room to have easy access to my books). Meals were brought up to me. Kind words of encouragement were offered. On Thursday the nurse came to check on me and gave my lungs the all clear. I was so relieved. And grateful.

Today is the first day that I have actually had much energy, and it feels fantastic. Although I’m being mindful to not overdo things, it feels so good to follow a more normal routine today. I finally did my laundry! And sorted my mail! Things are looking up.

At first while I was sick and stuck in bed, I fixated on feeling awful. Every symptom took on an exaggerated quality and I couldn’t find any comfort. I couldn’t focus on anything to pass the time other than mindless tv watching and sporadic light reading. After a couple of days, I was able to focus and felt a desire to tackle some reading that was a bit more thoughtful. My candidacy director gave me a copy of St. Ignatius of Loyola’s autobiography shortly before Christmas. I had read it a couple of years ago when I first discovered Ignatian spirituality but I had forgotten a lot of the details. I spent a day delving into his account of his life and it reawoke my admiration for him and for his spirituality.

He was an incredible man – so self aware and observant. Holy, dedicated, always striving to know God’s will in a given moment. I love that he developed the Spiritual Exercises from his own intense attempts (and they were intense!) to understand God’s will and to know God deeply. He recorded all of his insights and developed a powerful set of prayer exercises to help one come to know God, discern God’s will, and to make decisions. I used the Exercises during my vocation discernment, and it led me to the freedom I needed to make the decision to apply to be a candidate with the Lorettos. Using his Examen prayer, I am able to look at my day more closely and see God’s presence. His method of scriptural contemplation helps me to see Jesus and talk to him as naturally as I do to my friends.

Anyway, as I read the autobiography, I recalled the First Principle and Foundation of the Exercises:

The human person is created to praise, reverence, and serve God Our Lord, and by doing so, to save his or her soul.

All other things on the face of the earth are created for human beings in order to help them pursue the end for which they are created.

It follows from this that one must use other created things, in so far as they help towards one’s end, and free oneself from them, in so far as they are obstacles to one’s end.

To do this, we need to make ourselves indifferent to all created things, provided the matter is subject to our free choice and there is no other prohibition.

Thus, as far as we are concerned, we should not want health more than illness, wealth more than poverty, fame more than disgrace, a long life more than a short one, and similarly for all the rest, but we should desire and choose only what helps us more towards the end for which we are created.

Of course, being sick, I was fixated on the part about not wanting health more than illness. I don’t like being sick. I hate being sick. It’s inconvenient, it’s uncomfortable, and sometimes it’s gross. But often a person doesn’t have much control over being sick, and that’s what I felt St. Ignatius was telling me in that moment. I am sick, I can’t force myself to not be sick, so I just have to be sick. And try to find God in this time of illness. This freed me up to be patient, to be sick and not grumble or feel anxious about it, to just be sick and be with God as I rode it out. A very different experience for this girl! (A big thanks to Iggy!)

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I expect to write another post about Mary Ward soon. When I finished the Ignatius autobiography, I started a new (to me) biography of Mary Ward. Reading is in progress. I’m sure I’ll have lots to share about her when I’m finished.