More than 2000 people attended the Celebratory Mass in Westminster Cathedral on Saturday 23rd January in honour of Mary Ward and the 400th Jubilee of the Mary Ward foundation in 1609. The principal celebrant was Most Reverend Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster.
In December 2009 Pope Benedict XVI published a Decree recognising the ‘heroic virtue’ demonstrated by Mary Ward (1585-1645) and thereby conferring on her the title ‘Venerable’, the first step towards sainthood. Mary Ward’s foundation exists today worldwide under the names Congregation of Jesus and Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Loreto Sisters) with about 3,000 members. The sisters are active in 44 countries across five continents. The Mass in Westminster Cathedral marks the conclusion of their year-long celebration of the 400th Jubilee of Mary Ward.
The jubilee celebrations had begun with Mass celebrated in York Minster, as guests of the Anglican community. We were delighted to repay the warm hospitality we received then by inviting the Archbishop of Canterbury. Dr Rowan Williams, to be with us at Westminster Cathedral for our tribute to this unique woman of vision and faith.
The CJ and IBVM general superiors Sr Mechtild Meckl, and Sr Marian Moriarty were present, having come from Rome for the Mass. Among the many guests were the Mayor of Westminster, the Deputy Mayor of St Omer, site of the original foundation in 1609, and the Chancellor of the diocese of Arras.
A choir of pupils from St. Mary’s School, Ascot, St. Mary’s School Cambridge, Loreto College St. Alban’s and St. Mary’s School, Shaftesbury sang music specially composed for the occasion, under their director Mr. Richard James, head teacher of St. Mary’s Shaftesbury. During the offertory pupils of Loreto College St. Alban’s in historical costume enacted a pageant of women through the ages, bringing their gifts and talents, led by Mary Ward in pilgrim dress.
During his homily, Archbishop Vincent Nichols said Mary Ward "was truly a woman of Europe". He spoke of the shoes in which she walked three times to Rome to plead her cause with the Pope, saying "You can tell a good deal about a woman from her shoes. Hers were tough and durable, in soft leather which fitted her individuality." He also spoke of Mary’s three spiritual journeys: to discern what God wanted her to do, to live closely to God - her motto was 'Go close to him', and to journey within the church. He pointed out that despite great suffering and persecution, she always retained a deep love and loyalty for the church.
"At a time when so many pressures combined to encourage the Church to retrench and to avoid risks, she kept a door open for a gospel-based vision for the renewal of religious life. Critical, loyal, brave and imaginative, she is a figure for all Christians to celebrate with gratitude." Her "verity, sincerity and transparency" had been seen as dangerous at the time. Mary Ward had actually tried to visit the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Williams noted. He was out but she scratched her signature on a window pane of Lambeth Palace.