Mary Ward was born in 1585 into a staunchly Catholic Yorkshire family. It was a period of religious upheaval . Mary, though hailing from an affluent family, was always inclined to a life of prayer. Perhaps it was no strange coincidence that the first word she uttered was "Jesus". Greatly inspired by stories of Saints and martyrs who laid down their lives for religion, she longed for martyrdom, turned down some of the most eligible suitors and even when just in her teens, she was firmly resolved that ‘the most perfect thing would be to take the most austere and secluded order’. After much opposition, she managed to secure her parents’ permission to join the Poor Clares at St. Omer.
The position of an extra was not exactly what she wanted, but nevertheless, she happily performed the work assigned. However, she soon came to understand that this was not what God willed for her and she left to found a new Poor Clare for English women in Gravelines. But in 1609, she became aware with a spiritual shock that God was calling her to ‘some other thing’. This drew a great deal of flak and huge obstacles barred her way, but undeterred and inspired, she framed her ‘Ratio Institute’ wherein she insisted on freedom - from enclosure, from monastic patterns of life, and from set forms of penance.
This was unheard of and Mary Ward invited formidable wrath and little sympathy from the Church, and then followed a long wait. Unaware of what was brewing, Mary Ward continued founding new houses. With the coming of Pope Urban VIII, began the slow process of the dismantling of her society and one by one, the Italian houses were suppressed. The final blow came in 1631 when the Pope condemned her work as ‘harmful to the church’ and declared the Institute suppressed forever.
Though she was eventually absolved of all charges of heresy, her Sisters were reduced in number. She returned to London, not yet down in spirit, and opened a small school in York and here it was she died in 1645, encouraging her companions to be merry. The name of Jesus was the last word on her lips. She was buried in ‘St.Thomas’ Church, Osbaldwick. Though she died disappointed, all was not lost. What she had pioneered was revived again and her legacy is seen in the Loreto Institution that is spread all around the world today.
Her trust in God, her courage and strong determination in the face of all odds, her love for her friends and enemies alike, her farsightedness and above all her cheerfulness, makes her a universal role model for all time.