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400th Jubilee of foundation of the Congregation of Jesus

posted on 02 February 2009

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor has celebrated a Catholic Mass in York Minster hosted to celebrate of Mary Ward's foundation of the Congregation of Jesus and the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Around 1500 people attended the Mass on January 29 2009, including Bishop Terry Drainey of Middlesbrough, the Earl of Halifax, Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Birmingham, Bishop Arthur Roche of Leeds and Fra Matthew Festing, Grand Master of the Order of Malta.

400 year long struggle

Given the difficult history of Anglican/Catholic relations in Britain, the Congregation of Jesus was particularly delighted by this warm ecumenical gesture by York Minster. The invitation from the Dean and chapter of York Minster to celebrate Mass in the second most important Anglican Church in England, marked the culmination of a 400-year long struggle by pioneering Yorkshire-woman Mary Ward and her followers to found an active order of nuns on the Jesuit model.

Centuries ahead of her time and a woman of true Yorkshire grit, Mary Ward recognised that in a time of severe political repression of Roman Catholics in England it was essential to educate women to work actively in the service of the Church and Catholic girls who, as mothers, would pass on their faith to future generations. In 1609 she led a group of women to St Omer in France to start 'a consecrated life without enclosure' against the wishes of the Papal authorities.

In 1611 she felt called by God to adopt the spirituality and Constitutions of the Society of Jesus for her sisters, gaining the name in some quarters of 'Jesuitesses' or 'Galloping Girls'. She travelledfrom Brussels to Rome on foot in 1621 to seek Papal approval for her Order. Initially permitted to open schools across Catholic Europe, the tide turned against her when Pope Urban VIII officially ruled against the sisters' refusal of enclosure, suppressing the order and imprisoning Mary Ward as a heretic.

The Bar Convent in York, founded in 1686, is the oldest religious house in England and the foundation house of both the English province of the Congregation of Jesus and the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Loreto sisters). Mary Ward foundation schools currently include St Mary's Hampstead (London), Ascot, Shaftesbury and Cambridge and Loreto College and VI Form College in Altrincham, Manchester and St Alban's. Today Mary Ward's sisters are active in 44 countries across five continents.

Sister Gemma Simmonds CJ, who teaches at Heythrop College, London University,  said:  'Mary Ward is one of Britain's best kept secrets. She is a saint for the third millennium and someone we should be proud of as a great pioneer for women.

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posted on 02 February 2009

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