Perhaps the best word to describe Mary Ward’s spirituality is ‘integrity’. Despite the constant external pressures on her life which resulted in what seemed like set-backs and bewildering changes of direction, she remained absolutely faithful to her desire to serve God and God only.
This single-minded desire to serve God did not mean she cared less about this world – on the contrary her human attractiveness and attentiveness to both friends and strangers is constantly remarked on by her contemporaries.
It was as if this all pervading love of God enriched who she was, enhancing her natural characteristics and giving her a sense of purpose so strong that even seeming failure did not unduly upset her – her trust was not in ‘the favour of princes and great personages, but in … free and open access to God, from whom all greatness and strength come.’
Yet this position of strength and trust did not come ready made. One of the most attractive and encouraging features of Mary Ward is her gradual understanding of what following God entailed. Like all of us she did not immediately know how best to live out her love of God or even how best to pray – and her somewhat meagre writings give us a wonderfully honest insight into God’s gentle guiding and her extraordinary determination not to waver from what she perceived to be His will in her life – even when it seemed to contradict an earlier understanding.
Much of our understanding of Mary Ward’s inner journey comes from her own brief autobiographical fragments, the writings of her friends and followers and an extraordinary series of paintings executed in her life time or shortly afterwards. These, unusually, chronicle her spiritual life rather than the key external incidents and throw light on the development of her vocation and that of the Institute she founded.
See the next page for a collection which can be used as a basis for prayer, or simply as a reflection on key characteristics of Mary Ward's spirituality.