VATICAN CITY, DEC. 22, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Mary Ward, British founder of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, has been recognized as venerable by Benedict XVI.
On Saturday, the Pope approved a decree acknowledging the heroic virtue of the Englishwoman, advancing her cause for canonization.
Ward was born in 1585 in Ripon, England, at a time when Catholics were persecuted in that country. In 1589, her family’s home was burned down, and she was often separated from her parents for her safety.
She felt called to the religious life at age 15, and in 1606 she left England to enter a Poor Clare monastery. Later realizing that she was not called to the contemplative life, Ward left the cloister and returned to England where she worked in disguise to preserve the Catholic Church.
In 1609, she founded a community of active religious sisters in Saint-Omer, France. The women worked to educate youth, help persecuted and imprisoned Catholics, and “spread the Word of God in places priests could not go,” the institute’s Web site stated. Ward founded schools in the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Austria, present-day Czech Republic and Slovakia.
The new style of religious community established by Ward, with an active ministry outside of cloistered life and without a formal habit, was met with opposition.
Ward was accused of heresy, and the congregation was disbanded in 1630. It was revived later and its rule was approved by Pope Clement XI in 1703. In 1877 the congregation was recognized as an institute by Pope Pius IX, but Ward was not formally named as the founder until 1909.
The Englishwoman died in Heworth, near York, England, in 1645. Her cause for canonization was started in 1929.
Her institute, also known as the Congregation of Jesus or the Loreto Sisters, has some 3,000 members working in 44 countries worldwide.
To qualify for beatification, a decree attesting to a miracle attributed to Mary Ward’s intercession will have to be approved by the Church.