Papal Visit (v) Pope remembers 'English Ladies' at Twickenham

Pope greets childen before going into St Mary's chapel

Pope greets childen before going into St Mary's chapel

On the first day of his state visit to England, Pope Benedict met representatives of the religious congregations and orders in Britain, along with teachers in the chapel of St Mary’s University College, Twickenham. St Mary’s has played a long and distinguished role in the history of Catholic teaching in these islands, founded in 1850 by the Catholic Poor Schools Committee to provide much-needed training for teachers who would offer an education to the growing numbers of poor Catholic children.  This history, combining the pioneering spirit of religious orders and their contribution to Catholic education and culture in Britain was echoed in the Pope’s speech.

Inevitably, given the venue and the occasion, the Pope emphasized the contribution made by those religious directly involved in educational apostolates, but his words remain relevant to those who have long handed over administration of their institutions to lay people or whose ministries have widely diversified.  

Pope Benedict took the opportunity to pay special tribute to the pioneering vision of apostolic religious life for women of Yorkshire born Mary Ward and her ‘English Ladies’, as they were known in Germany when they taught Josef Ratzinger as a small boy in the Englische Fräulein Kindergarten in Tittmoning in the district of Traunstein from July 1929 - December 1932. He is said to have happy memories of one of the sisters who taught him - Sr Korbinia.  Perhaps it was these memories which led him also to stress the vital importance of Catholic schools providing ‘a safe environment for […]those entrusted to us for their Christian formation […] Indeed, the life of faith can only be effectively nurtured when the prevailing atmosphere is one of respectful and affectionate trust’.

Sister Gemma Simmonds CJ, lecturer in pastoral theology at Heythrop College, University of London and Director of the Religious Life Institute said: "Sisters of the Congregation of Jesus and the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Loreto) have a worldwide network of schools and broadly educational ministries, working especially for the promotion of girls and women within society. It may be significant that our famous past pupil chose to name Mary Ward as a pioneer of women’s apostolic life rather than specifically as an educator, given the amount of hostile publicity there has been to the alleged breach between the Catholic and Anglican churches over the ordination of women priests and bishops".  The pope spoke of the presence of religious within Catholic schools as a ‘powerful reminder of the much-discussed Catholic ethos’, which makes the life of faith, in all its aspects, the driving force of the church’s educational mission.

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