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