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From: Mary Ward by Sr Gregory Kirkus, CJ: ( Editions du Signe, 2009 )

“In 1623 a special commission on the ‘English Ladies' was opened under the newly elected Pope Urban VIII and bit by bit the Italian foundations were suppressed in a bid to dismantle the Institute. Mary Ward herself travelled to Munich and in 1627 founded the Paradeiserhaus which was primarily focused on education. she made similar foundations in Vienna (1627) and Pressburg, now Bratislava (1628), and made an unsuccessful attempt also to found in Prague (1628).”

“But events in Rome were creating a juridical quagmire for the Institute and with no training in canon law or knowledge of ecclesiastical judicial practice, and insufficient experience of the complex procedures and intricate diplomacy of the Roman Curia; she was at an obvious disadvantage.”

“In January 1629 Propaganda Fide issued a decree suppressing the English Jesuitesses. The decree was not published, but Mary, hearing rumours of it, hastened to Rome to put her petition for approbation before the Pope once more. In May of that year, Urban VIII granted her an audience at Castelgandolfo and she came away reasonably satisfied.”

“Despite further rumours and the suppression of the St Omer house in January 1630, Mary could not believe that Papal authority lay behind these events, or that the Pope would take any important step without notifying her. It was this conviction that led her to write the fatal letter of 6 April 1630 . She addressed the letter to her communities in Trier , Cologne and Liège, directing them, in good faith, to disregard any orders of suppression.”

“The letter did not reach Liège until several days after the final closure of the house and the submission of the community. Then, faced with Mary Ward's orders, the little group remaining in the house suffered all the pain of divided loyalty; the letter reached the Nuncio Pierluigi Carafa, who judged it to be a serious act of disobedience to the Church and sent it to Rome . Mary's case was soon in the hands of the Holy Office, commonly known as the Inquisition.”

“Meanwhile, still convinced that her society was properly constituted, Mary continued to act as its General Superior. In June 1630 she had accepted a few novices into the Institute in Munich , and at the end of the month she named Winefrid Wigmore as Visitor of the northern houses.”

“Winifred arrived in Liège in August. Upholding the authority of Mary Ward as General Superior, and believing in the validity of her order of 6 April, she found herself in conflict with the Nuncio Carafa, who was carrying out the orders of suppression. He ordered an interrogation of the sisters remaining in Liège, and the record makes sad reading. It reveals a situation in which the skilled cross-questioning of the Nuncio bewilders the inexperienced companions as they attempt to remain loyal to Mary Ward.”

“While these events dragged on in northern Europe , the Holy Office in Rome was in no doubt. On 5 December it ordered that Mary Ward should be imprisoned in Munich and Winefrid Wigmore in Liège. On 13th January 1631 the coup de grâce was inflicted by the Pope himself, when he issued the Bull Pastoralis Romani Pontificis . He decrees that the pretended congregation of women called Jesuitesses is null and void, and that it should be utterly and completely suppressed, rooted out, destroyed and abolished.”

“Mary's response in Munich was immediate and unambiguous. On 2 February she instructed the members to obey the bishop's orders and to submit to the suppression. But her own sentence was still to come. On 7 February Dr. Golla, dean of the Munich Frauenkirche, presented himself at the Paradeiserhaus. He was acting under orders from the Pope and the Holy Office, and carried a writ for Mary's arrest.”

“Mary submitted to her arrest, asking only to be allowed to bid farewell to the community. This was not allowed, but in view of her poor state of health she was permitted to take with her Anne Turner, a lay sister who had long been her attendant and nurse.”

“The Angerkloster, a convent of Poor Clares, had been chosen as the place of imprisonment. Mary and her companion were locked into a small and filthy cell, with insufficient light or air, without heating, and in complete isolation, for the community were forbidden to speak to them. Writing materials were prohibited but, according to common usage, there was permission for food and laundry to be supplied by the prisoners' friends.”

“Parcels were thus delivered daily from the Paradeiserhaus, and moreover, despite the restrictions, a method of communication was soon established by means of lemon juice and the laundry wrapping paper. Twenty-three fragile lemon-juice letters have survived to this day. As we eavesdrop on their intimate contents, vivid pictures emerge in our minds.”

“In the Paradeiserhaus, the bereft community keep up round-the-clock prayer, until Mary forbids all night vigils, and orders them to go to bed betimes with a cheerful song. From the Angerkloster, Mary describes her cell, and concludes, with a cheerfulness perhaps a little forced, ‘sometimes we freeze and sometimes we fry'.”

“In spite of her own sufferings she does her best to keep up the spirits of her companions, with such biddings as ‘Be merry and not sad.' What stands out most clearly, however, is the refinement of Mary's holiness by her total acceptance of the will of God.”

*Courtesy of: Mary Ward by Sr Gregory Kirkus, CJ: (Editions du Signe, 2009)