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Who was

Mary Ward?


Mary Ward, born on January 23, 1585, in Mulwith, Yorkshire, England, was a pioneering figure in the history of religious education and advocacy for women's roles within the Catholic Church. Her life and legacy profoundly influence the values of the Mary Ward Centre, especially in promoting education, justice, and spirituality.

Early Life and Vision

Born into a recusant Catholic family during a time of religious persecution in England, Mary Ward was deeply influenced by her family's steadfast faith. Her early life was marked by the turbulent religious atmosphere following the English Reformation. At the age of 15, she felt a calling to dedicate her life to God and joined the Poor Clares in Saint-Omer, France, but she soon realized that her mission extended beyond the cloistered life.


Founding the Institute

In 1609, Mary Ward founded the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (IBVM), also known as the Loreto Sisters, with the vision of an active, apostolic life for women, modeled after the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). This was a radical departure from the norm, as it challenged the traditional, passive roles assigned to women in religious orders. Her Institute focused on educating young girls, promoting social justice, and serving the poor and marginalized, which were revolutionary ideas at the time.

Trials and Perseverance

Mary Ward faced significant opposition from church authorities who were unprepared for her progressive ideas. In 1615, she established a school for girls in St. Omer, France, which laid the foundation for a network of schools across Europe. However, her vision attracted scrutiny, and in 1631, the Church condemned her work, leading to her arrest and imprisonment for a time.

Despite these challenges, Mary Ward remained steadfast. She continued to advocate for her vision until her death on January 20, 1645, at Heworth, near York. Her perseverance under persecution is a testament to her deep commitment to her faith and mission.

Legacy and Influence

Mary Ward's legacy endured beyond her lifetime. The suppression of her Institute was lifted in 1703, and her followers continued her work, which was officially recognized by the Vatican in 1909. Today, the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary operates in over 40 countries, continuing Mary Ward's mission of education, justice, and spirituality.

Her influence extends to the Mary Ward Centre, which embodies her values by offering educational programs that promote social justice and personal growth. The Centre's commitment to these ideals is a direct reflection of Mary Ward's life work and vision.



Mary Ward's dedication to education, especially for women, revolutionized the approach to female education within the Catholic Church. She believed that educating women was crucial for societal development and that women could contribute significantly to the Church and society. This belief underpins the educational programs at the Mary Ward Centre, which aim to empower individuals through knowledge and critical thinking.


Mary Ward's spirituality was deeply rooted in action and contemplation. She envisioned a religious life that combined deep faith with active service, a principle that guides the spiritual programs at the Mary Ward Centre. These programs encourage personal spiritual growth and active engagement with the world, reflecting Mary Ward's holistic approach to faith.



Mary Ward's life was a constant struggle for justice within a patriarchal society and Church. Her advocacy for women's active participation in religious and social life was groundbreaking. Today, the Mary Ward Centre continues this legacy by focusing on social justice issues, providing a platform for marginalized voices, and working towards a more equitable society.

Mary Ward's life story is a powerful testament to courage, faith, and visionary leadership.

Her efforts to reform the role of women in the Church and society laid the groundwork for future generations. The Mary Ward Centre proudly carries forward her legacy, fostering an environment where education, justice, and spirituality intersect to create a more just and enlightened world. For more detailed information on Mary Ward's life and legacy, you can explore sources like IBVM Canada, Wikipedia, and the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary UK.

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