Born into a Yorkshire Catholic recusant family in 1585 Mary Ward was remarkable for being among the first women to believe that women should be actively involved in the apostolic life of the Catholic Church. However, initially she opted for the strictest form of contemplative religious life determined to give herself totally to God.
When God revealed to her that a life of prayer and obscurity behind a convent wall was not what she was called to she returned to London in 1609. Here with a group of like-minded young women she engaged in apostolic work disregarding the strict laws against Catholics at the time. Later that same year Mary realised that God was calling her to some form of religious life “more to his glory” To discern what it was she left London for Flanders with her young companions and founded her first house at St Omer.
In 1611, when at prayer, enlightenment came to her and she heard clearly the words: ‘take the same of the Society’ by which she understood the ‘Society of Jesus’ founded by St Ignatius of Loyola. The rest of her life was to be spent in developing a congregation of religious women on the Ignatian model for which she needed, and failed to gain, papal approval.
Three times she and her companions walked to Rome from Flanders, twice to try to gain this approval and the third time as a prisoner of the Inquisition following the suppression of her congregation by Pope Urban VIII in 1631. During this period she founded houses and schools in Liège, Cologne, Rome, Naples, Munich, Vienna, Pressburg and other places, often at the request of the local rulers and bishops, but papal approval eluded her. . . .
Summoned to Rome in 1632 to face charges Mary was granted an audience with the Pope at which she declared: “Holy Father, I neither am nor ever have been a heretic”. She received the comforting reply: “We believe it, we believe it”. No trial ever took place, but Mary Ward was forbidden to leave Rome or to live in community.
In 1637 for reasons of health Mary was allowed to travel to Spa and then on to England. She died during the English Civil War just outside York on January 30th 1645. She is buried in Osbaldwick Anglican churchyard close by.
The same site also describes the progress of her cause for beatification and canonization: she has been declared Venerable--what is needed is a miracle!
The recognition by the Church of Mary Ward as foundress did not take place until 1909, and the First World War then presented a further delay. Only in 1922 was a petition to open her cause sent to Pope Pius XI signed by all the bishops of England. The process opened in Middlesborough, Yorkshire in 1929. Soon afterwards permission was obtained to pursue the case simultaneously in Munich where most of the archive material was available.
The historical research was begun by Fr Josef Grisar SJ and completed by Sr Immolata Wetter CJ accompanied by the Postulator Fr Paul Molinari SJ and the Relator Fr Peter Gumpel SJ. This was accepted by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in 1995. The theologians completed their investigation in May 2009 and recommended unanimously that Mary Ward demonstrated ‘heroic virtue’ and that her cause should go forward. This was confirmed by the commission of Cardinals and Bishops in November 2009, and promulgated by Pope Benedict XVI on 19th December of the same year. By this action Mary Ward was officially recognised as ‘Venerable’ by the Church.
Prayers for her beatification and other devotions may be found here.