Mary Ward Receives the Inspiration to Take the Ignatian Way of Life

In this picture painted during Mary Ward’s lifetime, she is seen receiving the inspiration to adopt the Ignatian way of life, the way of life followed by the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). The Society of Jesus was founded by Ignatius of Loyola in 1539. (The Painted Life No. 28)In this picture painted during Mary Ward’s lifetime, she is seen receiving the inspiration to adopt the Ignatian way of life, the way of life followed by the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). The Society of Jesus was founded by Ignatius of Loyola in 1539. (The Painted Life No. 28)In 1611, Mary Ward was recovering from serious illness. While she was alone and in her bed she experienced an extraordinary state of mind, described as a state of repose and profound peace. She was given the grace to perceive plainly the manner of religious life she was to follow and the way in which she should organize her Institute. This brought a great light, consolation and strength, such that it was impossible for her to doubt that this knowledge came from God.

Mary heard an inward voice directing her to adopt a similar way of life, in matter and manner, to that of the Society of Jesus.

In the England of that time, Catholics were not allowed to practice their faith freely or openly and if they did so, they risked suffering the gravest consequences, including imprisonment and even death.

Mary Ward and her companions had taken the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and were living a communal life together. They were ministering to the spiritual needs of their fellow Catholics under the most dangerous of conditions. They ministered to prisoners, the poor, the sick and the dying. This necessitated a certain mobility that earned them the name of “the galloping girls”.

The idea of religious women being allowed to move about freely and go into places such as poor neighbourhoods and prisons was considered preposterous at the time. Women religious were strictly bound by rules of enclosure, rules which did not allow them to leave their convents or monasteries and move freely. The day was strictly ordered around communal recitation of the prayer of the church, the divine office. While Mary Ward and companions recited the divine office daily, they did so individually, enabling them to move about and minister freely.

The inspiration to “adopt the same manner of life as the Society of Jesus” was a novel idea for women at the time. The desire to live this way as mobile apostolic women religious would meet significant resistance from church authorities and others. It would mean very great personal suffering for Mary herself and a lifelong struggle to gain canonical recognition for her Institute and its way of life.