400 Years of Mary Ward’s Foundation 1609 - 2009
"That incomparable woman whom Catholic England gave to the Church …" Pope Pius XII
JUBILEE 400 2009 to 2011
2009 is the 400th anniversary of Mary Ward’s foundation, a response to God’s call for active engagement of women in apostolic work for church and world.
In September 1609 Mary Ward had returned to England after some years spent in Poor Clare convents in Flanders. She was working for the faith in London, at a time when English Catholics were suffering intense persecution.
Not many people have an intense experience of God when they are sitting in front of a mirror doing their hair. But this is what happened to Mary Ward, at some date in late 1609. So intense was the experience that Mary, as she later wrote, ‘remained for a good space without feeling or hearing anything but the sound: Glory, glory, glory.’ She knew from this experience that she was not to be an enclosed nun, but that ‘some other thing more to the glory of God’ was being asked of her.
The picture on the left shows Mary Ward with five of her first companions, like-minded young English women in their twenties, planning for their departure from England in 1609 to do ‘something more for the glory of God’. Panel 22 from the 17th century 'Painted Life'. The open circle and the ship record the 1609 foundation in London and St Omer.
The same group embarking for St Omer in Flanders under the watchful eye of government agents. In 1609 or early 1610 they acquired a house, opened a small school, and began to discern their future work together. From this modest beginning came Mary Ward’s world-wide congregation, its two branches known today as the Congregation of Jesus and the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Two years later in 1611, in a new religious experience, Mary learnt what this ‘some other thing’ was: to take the Constitutions of the Jesuits, founded a generation earlier by St Ignatius of Loyola, and form a congregation of women who would live without enclosure, actively committed to the apostolate, and directly under the Pope. Mary Ward was later condemned by the Church for her audacity, her congregation was suppressed, and only in 2003 were her hopes fully realized.
Jubilee 400 was joyfully celebrated from 2009 to 2011