Brian O’Leary spent two nights on the Other Island, to concelebrate Mass in York Minster, and join in commemorating the 400th anniversary of the foundation by the Yorkshirewoman Mary Ward of the Congregation of Jesus, and the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The painting here shows Mary Ward on the right with her first companions. The account in the ‘Church Times’ by Sister Gemma Simmonds CJ gives a good flavour of the event. Read more:
ECUMENICAL history will be made next Thursday, when Sisters of the worldwide Roman Catholic Congregation of Jesus and the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary gather in York Minster to celebrate the 400th anniversary of their orders’ foundation by the Yorkshirewoman Mary Ward (1585-1645). Mary was described by Pope Pius XII in 1951 as “that incomparable woman, given to the Church by Catholic England in her darkest and bloodiest hour”. This was a far cry from Pope Urban VIII, who, in 1631, suppressed her pioneering religious order, describing her Sisters as “poisonous growths in the Church of God [which] must be torn up from the roots”. The Minster’s generous hospitality is also a far cry from the days when Mary Ward’s grandmother and cousins were imprisoned as recusants.
Mary Ward was determined to become a nun, but in opposition to the Church’s ruling that all nuns must live a strictly cloistered life, she took inspiration from the Jesuits, dreaming of sisters who were free, mobile, and trained for apostolic work. Neither Church nor society was ready to accord women such freedom, dubbing them “Jesuitesses” and “Galloping Girls”. But Mary maintained: “There is no such difference between men and women, that women may not do great things.” A Jesuit remarked that, while she and her “English Ladies” were remarkable for their fervour, “when all is done, they are but women”; so their new venture was bound to fail.
Mary and most of her first companions had male relatives in the Gunpowder Plot. More positively, the women set up underground networks in England, and schools and pastoral initiatives across Europe. She walked across the Alps through war and plague to petition the Pope for approval of her new plan. Arrested, imprisoned, and tried at the Guildhall for being a recusant, she was released, only to be imprisoned later in Catholic Munich as a “heretic, schismatic and rebel to Holy Church”. When she died during the Civil War, Mary was buried in Osbaldwick, where the sisters found an Anglican priest “honest enough to be bribed” to bury a Roman Catholic. Her tombstone in the parish church there is the focus of veneration for pilgrims across religious divides.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, George Abbot (1562-1633), declared that Mary Ward did more harm than six or seven Jesuits. Mary called at Lambeth Palace, to the terror of her companions, but, finding the Archbishop away, left her signature cut with a diamond ring into a window pane. Today, Jane Livesey, the Provincial Superior of the Congregation of Jesus (whose brother Tim Livesey works at Lambeth as the Archbishop’s Secretary for Public Affairs), says of the service next week: “We will be using the Braganza Crozier and the Mercier Chalice — symbols of attempts by Anglicans and Catholics to draw near to one another in friendship and the love of Christ.”