4th Sunday in Ordinary Time
In Due Course
This past week, the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, more commonly known as the Loretto Sisters, and their sister congregation, the Congregation of Jesus, celebrated Mary Ward Week. Hearing this Sunday’s Gospel shed a particular light on the life and work of Mary Ward, their founder. Mary Ward’s contributions to the life of the Church, like many women through history, were sadly not valued in her time as they ought to have been. Mary Ward lived from 1585 to 1645, during a particularly difficult time for Catholics in England. There are three significant moments in her spiritual journey which became the founding experiences of her Institute: Her Glory Vision (1609), the Inspiration to follow the Ignatian Way of Life (1611), and the ‘Just Soul’ experience (1615).
She developed a spirituality that in everything, one:
- Works for the greater glory of God
- Seeks and finds God in all things
- Works to be “wholly God’s”
- Refers everything to God
- Be contemplative in action
Mary Ward discerned a vocation from a young age, but at the time, women in the Church were limited to cloistered, contemplative communities. Mary sought a more active role in ministry, instead opting to forge a path ahead on her own. By the age of 24, she had a small following of like-minded trailblazers who had helped open a school for young women. The controversy and expansion of her following eventually led her to Rome (by foot) to plead the case for her Institute (which had already been welcomed by numerous Bishops throughout Europe). Her congregation was suppressed in 1631 by Pope Urban, she was labeled a heretic, and was briefly confined to prison in a convent. After being released from prison, the Pope dropped the charges of heresy. After the suppression, Mary Ward continued to orchestrate the running of the schools in local dioceses using her network of female friends/companions. In 1637 she was able to travel to London, where she and her companions continued their mission. She passed away in 1645, and was buried outside of the city, for fear of desecration. Her funeral was attended by Anglicans and Catholic alike.
Like today’s Gospel reading, this prophet was not recognized in her own time. It is only in the time after, that we see just how incredible her life’s mission was, and indeed her legacy continues to be. Mary Ward was declared venerable (the first step to Sainthood) by Benedict XVI in 2009. Let us pray that Mary Ward’s example of fortitude and devotion be a continued inspiration to us.
For more information on the life and spiritual practices of Mary Ward and the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, visit www.ibvm.ca