On 23rd January 1585, Mary Ward was born. During her early years, young Mary was surrounded by strong female role-models, women with principles and faith. Indeed, several of them had been persecuted and imprisoned for that most shocking crime: being catholic. Three of Mary’s uncles were executed for their alleged involvement in the Gunpowder Plot. Loyalty to one’s faith was a matter of life and death.
Mary grew up to be an extraordinarily strong and talented woman. Her calling led her to the continent, where at a young age, she founded a new religious order for women, based on the example of the (exclusively male) Jesuit order. The Jesuits were well-respected for providing education for boys, and Mary Ward decided that there was no good reason why women could not provide education for girls in the same manner. She told her nuns: “There is no such difference between men and women that women may not do great things … and I hope in God it will be seen, that women in time to come will do much.” Her male ‘superiors’ in the church held very different opinions of the ‘weaker sex’. They continually posed ‘theological objections’ and obstructed the work of Mary Ward. But despite the misogynistic discrimination she encountered, Mary remained convinced of her divine calling. She even travelled to Rome on foot, to take her case to the pope himself!
Towards the end of her turbulent life, Mary Ward returned to York. On the 30th January 1645 she died, aged 60, and was buried in Osbaldwick churchyard. A contemporary account claims that on the day of her funeral ‘all the people round about eagerly assembled to accompany her body to burial, with much weeping, remembering her rare virtues and qualities.’ This was all the more extraordinary since Catholics were not allowed to be buried in an Anglican churchyard.
On Sunday 28th January we hold our annual celebration of Mary Ward’s life and legacy. The service will be live-streamed, and joined by hundreds of people worldwide. The Archbishop of York will preach. And you are all invited!
Love and prayers