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Congregatio Jesu

Mary Ward's Spirituality


Mary Ward’s spiritual journey led her from childhood piety, to the enclosed contemplative life of the Poor Clares, to the Ignatian practice of finding God in all things – through joy, through searching,  through suffering,  through misunderstanding, and through disgrace – to the depths of mystical union with God.

Mary’s deep desire was to join the strictest contemplative order, and in 1606, following six years of opposition from her parents, Mary sailed to Flanders where she entered the Poor Clares. She was assigned a place with the lay sisters, which meant begging on the streets, rather than singing divine office in choir. Advised to leave this convent Mary helped to found a Poor Clare monastery in Gravelines where for two happy years she lived the contemplative life she had sought. However, God had ‘some other thing’ for her.

Finding God in all things came naturally to Mary Ward. One day in 1609 whilst in London doing her hair in the morning she fell into an ecstacy and for two hours could hear only the words: ‘Glory, glory, glory’. She understood that whilst she did not yet know what God had in mind for her, it would be to God’s greater honour and glory. Two years later, in a similar enlightenment, she heard distinctly the words ‘take the same of the Society’ understanding this to be a call to found a religious congregation of women on the model, but separate from, the Jesuits.

From this moment at the age of 26 her search was over. The rest of her life would be spent in striving to put into effect what she was certain God was asking of her. She never wavered in the face of doubt, opposition, hostility, poverty, suppression, imprisonment and disgrace. As her problems mounted so did her trust in God and her magnanimity in forgiving her enemies. Even when imprisoned by the Inquisition she could write to her companions: “Be merry and doubt not our Master”

From her early twenties Mary Ward was familiar with the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius and chose a Jesuit as her spiritual guide. A deep spiritual insight in 1615 known as the ‘Just Soul’ vision helped her to realise that her original desire for the contemplative life was perfectly compatible with the active, apostolic ministry. God was to be found in all things.

"I will give him what I have. And all I need I will find in Him" (Mary Ward)