Mary Ward

Victoria Mondelli

in Renaissance and Reformation

ISBN: 9780195399301
Published online August 2011 | | DOI:
Mary Ward

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  • Modern History (1700 to 1945)
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Mary Ward (b. 1585–d. 1645), founder of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary [IBVM], one of the first institutions created for the advanced education of women, was born to a family of recusant Catholics of gentry standing in Yorkshire, England, in 1585, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Endowed with an excellent education, Ward determined to advance the Catholic cause by developing schools on the Jesuit model that would make a classical education available to women—an ambition that could not be successfully pursued in Protestant England. In 1609, Ward gathered a group of young Catholic Englishwomen who accompanied her to Saint-Omer (modern France) where, in the vicinity of the Jesuit college already existing there, she founded the first house of her institute, complete with a boarding school for English girls and a day-school for local girls. This first foundation she expanded into a European network of schools headed by lay female teachers—the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The first foundations of the Institute were at Saint-Omer (modern France), Liège (Belgium), Cologne and Trier (Rhineland/Germany), Rome, Naples, and Perugia (Italy), Munich (Bavaria/Germany), Vienna (Austria), and Pressburg (Bratislava /Slovakia); eventually some three hundred were constituted, with some schools enrolling as many as five hundred students. Initially, Ward’s institute was encouraged by highly placed officials within the Catholic Church. From the 1620s, however, the institute aroused the suspicions and perhaps the jealousy of other prelates, whose hostility led to its formal suppression, in 1631, by Pope Urban VIII. The institute was denounced for its proposed Jesuit-like hierarchy, its mission to proselytize among heretics and the infidel, and its desire to be both a female religious order and remain unenclosed after the Council of Trent had demanded the full enclosure of women in religious orders. That decision was soon rescinded, and the institute and its offshoots were reaffirmed and its global extension encouraged. But the association of Ward herself with the IBVM was disallowed: in 1749, Pope Benedict XIV issued the decree Quamvis iusto, which prohibited the institute from acknowledging Mary Ward as its founder; in 1909, that ban was lifted. A century later, in 2009, Mary Ward was recognized as venerable by the Catholic Church on account of her “heroic virtue.” The cause for her canonization began in 1929 and remains active. This entry considers works about Ward’s life and mission and places her in the context of contemporary women’s reform movements, English recusancy, and the development of schooling for girls.

Article.  4878 words. 

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945) ; Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy

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