Mary Ward (nun) bigraphy, stories - English Venerated Catholic

Mary Ward (nun) : biography

23 January 1585 - 30 January 1645

The Venerable Mary Ward, I.B.V.M., (23 January 1585 – 30 January 1645) was an English Catholic Religious Sister in whose name the Congregation of Jesus was founded (Bar Convent, York) from which establishment the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, also known as the Loreto Sisters (not to be confused with the Sisters of Loretto) was founded in Ireland in the 19th century. Mary Ward was declared "Venerable" by Pope Benedict XVI on 19 December 2009; this is the first of three steps on the path to being declared a saint.



She was born to Marmaduke Ward and Ursula Wright. Mary's first word was "Jesus", which was a sign of things to come. Mary was born at a time of great conflict for Roman Catholics in England. She was born in Ripon and in 1595 saw her family home burned down in anti-Catholic rioting. As the home was burning, Mary and her sisters knelt down and prayed for the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary; the children were saved by their father. In 1599 she moved to the house of Sir Ralph Babthorpe at Osgodby, Selby. It was there at the age of 15 that Mary felt called to the religious life. She entered a monastery of Poor Clares at Saint-Omer in northern France, then in Spanish Flanders, as a lay sister in 1606 and the following year she founded a new monastery of the Order for English women at nearby Gravelines.

Establishment of the Institute

However, she did not find herself called to the contemplative life and instead decided to dedicate herself to an active ministry, whilst still being a religious; this was considered most unusual at the time. At the age of twenty-four she found herself surrounded by a band of devoted companions determined to work under her guidance. In 1609 they established themselves as a religious community at Saint-Omer in northern France, and opened schools for girls.

Although the venture was a great success, it was still controversial at the time, and it called forth censure and opposition as well as praise. Her idea was to enable women to do for the Church in their proper field, what men had done for it in the Society of Jesus. The idea has been realized over and over again in modern times, but in the 17th century it met with little encouragement. As previous foundresses who attempted such a way of life (e.g., St. Angela Merici) had learned, uncloistered religious women were repugnant to long-standing principles and traditions then prevalent. At that time, the work of religious women was confined to prayer, and such work as could be carried on within the walls of a monastery.

There were other new startling differences between the new Institute and existing congregations of women; freedom from: enclosure, the obligation of choir, wearing a religious habit, and from the jurisdiction of the local bishop. Moreover her scheme was proposed at a time when there was division amongst English Catholics, and the fact that it borrowed so much from the Society of Jesus (itself an object of suspicion and hostility in many quarters) increased the mistrust. Measures recognized as acceptable in modern times were still novelties in hers, and her opponents called for a statement to be made by Church authorities. As early as 1615, the Jesuit theologians Francisco Suárez and Leonardus Lessius had been asked for their opinion on the new institute; both praised its way of life. Lessius held that local episcopal authorization sufficed to render it a religious body whereas Suárez maintained that its aim, organization, and methods being without precedent in the case of women, required the sanction of the Holy See.

Pope St. Pius V (pope from 1566–1572) had declared solemn vows and strict papal enclosure to be essential to all communities of religious women. To this law the difficulties of Mary Ward were mainly due, when on the propagation of her institute in Flanders, Bavaria, Austria, and Italy, she applied to the Holy See for formal approbation. The Archduchess Isabella Clara Eugenia, the Elector Maximilian I, and the Emperor Ferdinand II had welcomed the congregation to their dominions, and together with such men as Cardinal Federigo Borromeo, Fra Domenico de Gesù, and Father Mutio Vitya, Superior General of the Society of Jesus, held the foundress in great esteem. Paul V, Gregory XV, and Urban VIII had shown her great kindness and spoken in praise of her work, and in 1629 she was allowed to plead her cause in person before the congregation of cardinals appointed by Urban to examine the situation.

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