Mary Ward (1585-1645)

Mary Ward

Mary Ward was an English Roman Catholic nun who founded the religious order known as the Congregation of Jesus or the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (also known as the Sisters of Loreto). She was born in 1585 at Mulwith, near Ripon, of staunch Catholic stock at a time when the Catholic church was severely repressed. Her two maternal uncles John and Christopher Wright were involved in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.

In 1606 Mary entered a convent of Poor Clares at Saint-Omer in Flanders. The following year she founded a house for Englishwomen at Gravelines, but not finding herself called to the contemplative life, she resolved to devote herself to active work. At the age of twenty-four she established a religious community at Saint-Omer, and opened schools for rich and poor.

She went on to set up communities and schools in many cities on the European continent. But the concept of nuns working in the community instead of being enclosed in convents aroused fierce opposition from within the Catholic Church, and in 1631 Mary Ward's Institute was suppressed by Pope Urban VIII, and she herself was described as a heretic and imprisoned for a time by the Inquisition.

Her work however was not destroyed. It revived gradually and developed, following the general lines of the first scheme. Mary was summoned to Rome by Pope Urban, and there, under the supervision and protection of the Holy See, the new institute took shape. In 1639, with letters of introduction from Pope Urban to Queen Henrietta Maria, Mary returned to England and established herself in London. In 1642 she journeyed northward with her household and settled at Heworth, then a village outside York. She died there in 1645, and the stone over her grave in the village churchyard of Osbaldwick (now a suburb of York) can still be seen.

External Links

Mary Ward: A Painted Life

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