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“That incomparable woman that England gave to the Church…”

                                                             (Pope Pius XII)

Mary Ward was born into a Catholic family in York, England, and throughout her life she stood out for being among the first women who believed that the female figure should be involved in the activity and apostolic life of the Catholic Church. However, she initially opted for the strict contemplative way of life based on giving herself totally to God.

When God revealed to her that a life of prayer and darkness behind the walls of a convent was not her way, she was called back to London in 1609. Here with a group of young women, animated by the same sentiment, she devoted herself to work apostolic against the strict laws towards Catholics during that time. Later that year, he realized that God was calling him to another form of religious life "that would be for his greater glory." In order to discern this, he left  London heading to Flanders with her young companions and founded her first house at St Omer.

In 1611, while in prayer, inspiration came to him and he clearly heard the words: "Take the same from the Company" and understood that it was "The Company of Jesus" founded by Saint Ignatius of Loyola. The rest of her life was based on the development of a religious congregation for women, according to the Ignatian model, for which she needed, if she wanted to succeed, to win papal approval.

Mary Ward walked with her companions three times to Rome from Flanders, twice tried to earn this approval and the third time - as if she were a prisoner of the Inquisition - followed the suppression of her Congregation by Pope Urban VIII in 1631. During this period he founded different houses and schools in Liege, Cologne, Naples, Munich, Vienna, Pressburg, among others,  at the request of local regulations and bishops, but papal approval eluded it.

The authorization of the Pope and the ecclesial authorities to found an Apostolic Congregation, without closure for women, was inconceivable at that time.  and it was going too far when the Reform of the Council of Trent had prohibited the founding of new religious congregations and confined women to strict seclusion.


Had she been prepared and committed to accepting a cloistered religious way of life, she would have obtained papal approval. However, she did not, preferring to face the dissolution and abolition of her congregation, suffer imprisonment, be accused as a heretic, and be discredited rather than abandon her deep conviction: “There is no such difference between men and women, and women They will be able to do a lot in this time” .

Being summoned in Rome in 1632 to face the charges of which she was accused,  she was granted an audience with the Pope, in which she declared as follows: "Holy Father, I am not and have never been a heretic." Mary Ward received this comforting retort: "We believe in it, we believe in it" . However, without any judicial process, Mary Ward was forbidden to leave Rome or live in community.

In 1637, for health reasons, Mary Ward was granted permission to travel to Spa and from there to England. She died during the English Civil War just outside York, on January 20, 1645. She was buried very close to Osbaldwick Anglican Cemetery.

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