Venerable Mary Ward's path of sainthood

  • January 8, 2010
{mosimage}TORONTO - A congregation founded 400 years ago received a surprise ending last month to its year-long anniversary celebration.

On Dec. 19, Pope Benedict XVI recognized the “heroic virtues” of Sr. Mary Ward, the English founder of the Congregation of Jesus and the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary —  also known as the Loretto Sisters — declaring her “venerable.”

“This was just one more premium for our 400th,” said Sr. Juliana Dusel, archivist for the Canadian Province of the Loretto Sisters .

“So we were all delighted to hear this because we’ve been promoting the cause of her actual canonization for some time.”

The Lorettos have been in Canada since 1847.

Dusel said the news of Ward’s veneration will become a highlight in the Lorettos’ annual week-long celebration Jan. 23-30, the anniversary dates of Ward’s birth and death. The sisters usually circulate a special prayer book among the institute honouring their founder during that time.

“It excites us because for one thing she really was the foundress who worked through and suffered through the acquisition of an institute where the sisters are allowed to go out of the cloister and do work — it’s an active order — and where the sisters of the order were allowed to have one of their own members be the Mother General and not be under the auspices of a male order,” said Dusel

Dusel said the sisters have long awaited Ward’s veneration, as she was not even officially recognized by Rome as the congregation’s founder until 1909. She encountered massive opposition from the church and its officials when she tried to create an order free of the cloister. The structure was considered unconventional for its time.

Born in Ripon, England, in 1585, Ward founded a religious order for women in 1609 modelled on the Jesuits.

After crossing the Alps on foot to ask Pope Urban VIII for approval for her order, the pontiff subsequently issued a papal bull ordering her movement to be suppressed. The pope was furious that her order, then known as the Institute of Mary, dared to disobey the rule that confined nuns to the cloister.

Ward and her large group of followers operated without approval from Rome but were suppressed in 1631, after which they stayed together as teachers. She spent three months in prison in Munich, Germany, where she was condemned by the Inquisition as a heretic, and following her release ordered that the pope’s wishes to close her order be carried out.

She died in York, England, in 1645.

The order was given a brief ratification of its rules in 1703 but it wasn’t until 1877 that the order was approved as an institute with the condition that it not be recognized as the same institute started by Ward.

That order was “rescripted” by Pope Pius X in 1909, who found no case against Ward and restored her as founder, said Dusel.

Pope Pius XI opened her cause for sainthood in 1932.

“We’re delighted that we can now have her canonized when in the church there are so many active orders of sisters recognized by the church whose constitutions are approved and whose founders are canonized,” Dusel said.

For Ward to be beatified, a miracle attributed to her intercession is still necessary.

(With files from Catholic News Service.)

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