Personal Highlights of the Mary Ward 400th Pilgrimage to Rome Oct. 1-12, 2009

Lenore Sullivan IBVM

Thirty two-pilgrims from Canada joined nearly a thousand others from 33 different countries for a week of celebrating the founding vision of Mary Ward in 1609 and her “way” of identification with Jesus in responding to the needs of the time with integrity, justice, freedom and joy.

Thirty-two pilgrims (nineteen Sisters, nine Associates and four friends) from Canada joined nearly a thousand others from 33 different countries for a week of celebrating the founding vision of Mary Ward in 1609 and her “way” of identification with Jesus in responding to the needs of the time with integrity, justice, freedom and joy. My sense of the gathering in Rome was that Mary Ward’s spirit is alive in amazing new ways and places. While empowering women through education continues to be recognized need, the glory that Mary foresaw emanating from this way of life for religious women is extending far beyond the boundaries of institutions.

An Experience of Union and Inclusivity

As far as I know this was the first international event that was not hosted by a particular branch or Province of the Institute. The planning committee represented both IBVMs and CJs. Assuming that canonical union would likely not occur during my lifetime, I had hoped to experience the wide international reality of Mary Ward’s Institute. I did, in spades!

We began the week by assembling around our flags in the Piazza del Populo where Mary Ward’s 1621 entrance into Rome in pilgrim garb was re-enacted.

We began the week by assembling around our respective flags in the Piazza del Populo where Mary Ward’s 1621 entrance into Rome in pilgrim garb was re-enacted. Throughout the week, wherever we met other delegates, I experienced that union of mind and heart that Mary desired so earnestly for her followers. Random conversations with students from Seville, couples from Australia, associates (Gefahrtinnen) or novices from Germany felt like family exchanges. I took an elder’s delight in the vitality of the young sisters from Slovakia, Rumania and Korea and in the German novice who assured us that she intended to tell Sr. Mechtilde (the CJ general superior) that she had to do more for union!

Throughout the week, wherever we met other delegates, I experienced that union of mind and heart that Mary desired so earnestly of her followers.

I am beginning to think that canonical union might come sooner than my death. I would be quite content to die a CJ. In 1996 I had prayed with Eleanor Holland before the icon in St. Mary Major where Mary received the vows of early members. I felt Eleanor’s presence as I prayed for union in the same chapel and again at the Symposium where I recognized all three speakers as attendees, at Eleanor’s invitation, of the 1992 International Conference on Mary Ward’s Charism and Spirituality in Toronto.

An Experience of Union With Mary Ward in Rome, Loreto and Assisi

Picture of Mary Ward at the English College; several of the early companions of Mary Ward are interred at the English College.Picture of Mary Ward at the English College; several of the early companions of Mary Ward are interred at the English College.

Mary Ward and her companions lived in this house at 40 Via Monserrato.  The house is close to the English College, the early headquarters of the Jesuits in Rome.Mary Ward and her companions lived in this house at 40 Via Monserrato. The house is close to the English College, the early headquarters of the Jesuits in Rome.

Much more profound and pervasive than on my previous two visits to Rome was my consciousness of what Mary and her companions may have experienced there. Of new significance to me was the proximity of their house on Via Montserrato to the English College (where Mary Ward’s picture hangs on the wall next to a plaque listing the names of the martyred priests) and also to the Campo dei Fiore where Giordano Bruno was burned for heresy in 1600.

At the Wednesday papal audience, the thousand of us joined thousands of others, including many lepers in Rome for the canonization of Damien of Molokai. The vast physical distance of the pope from the people seemed symbolic of the gap in priorities that persists after 400 years.

Pilgrims welcome Pope Benedict as he arrives for a papal audience and canonization of Damien of Molokai.Pilgrims welcome Pope Benedict as he arrives for a papal audience and canonization of Damien of Molokai.

Pope Benedict XVI arrives and greets a multitude of pilgrims.Pope Benedict XVI arrives and greets a multitude of pilgrims.

Mary Ward spent many hours in Rome’s churches; the Painted Life records some of her spiritual insights there. I suspect she appreciated baroque art much more than I do and that her aesthetic soul found nourishment in these “art galleries” and relief from the extreme poverty of her small community.

Loreto, on the Adriatic, was a surprise for me. Unlike the Roman basilicas, feminine energies pervade this Gothic structure. I understood why Mary went miles out of her way at least twice to be refreshed by the beauty and primal power of the site. I was also surprised to learn that archaeological evidence points to the actual transfer of stones from Nazareth in the 13th century. Perhaps the “angels” who transported the holy house were sailing ships.

As far as I know, there is no record of Mary visiting Assisi, but I find it hard to believe that Mary, a former Poor Clare traveled between Rome and Perugia without including this site of pilgrimage. Here again, I found my spirit stirred more by the Gothic church of St. Clare than by the basilica of San Francisco.

Although we did not visit the ninth century mosaics in the churches of Sts. Prassedes and Pudentiana, I had done so in 1996. These strong images of women in church leadership positions impressed me as having been a counterweight to the negative messages Mary was receiving when she lived in this vicinity between 1632 and 1637.

Mary Ward frequently prayed in the ancient church of Santa Maria Maggiore and it was here that many of the companions in Rome made their public commitment to the vowed life.Mary Ward frequently prayed in the ancient church of Santa Maria Maggiore and it was here that many of the companions in Rome made their public commitment to the vowed life.

Two present day companions of Mary Ward enjoy the sights and sounds of Rome.Two present day companions of Mary Ward enjoy the sights and sounds of Rome.

Interest in the Associate Relationship

A group of associates and sisters from the IBVM Canadian ProvinceA group of associates and sisters from the IBVM Canadian ProvinceThe CJs in Germany have begun an experimental associate relationship, pending approval at their General Congregation in 2011. Their Gefahrtinnen were anxious to meet with our associates and want more information. Sisters and others from various IBVM provinces also expressed interest. I welcome this opportunity to share the treasure of our Associate Relationship.