Some 2000 people gathered at a Mass in York Minster on Thursday, 29th January In celebration of the 400th anniversary of Mary Ward's foundation of the Congregation of Jesus and the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The principal celebrant was his eminence Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, the first head of the Catholic church in England to celebrate Mass at York
Minster since the Reformation. He was joined by Bishops Bernard Longley and George Stack. He began his address by reading cordial greetings from his Holiness Pope Benedict XVI who was himself educated by the CJ sisters in Bavaria. The message said: "For four hundred years, religious women have drawn inspiration from Mary Ward's determination and courage, and following her example, they have dedicated themselves to carrying out God's will through an active apostolic service. Generations of students have cause to be grateful to the sisters for the Christian education they have received,
and many more have benefited from the spiritual guidance and the formation of discipleship offered by the 'English Ladies'. His Holiness prays that, through the inspiration of their foundress, the members of the two Congregations will continue to be 'fountains of living water in the midst of a thirsting world' (Deus Caritas Est. 42).
Mary Ward sisters from as far afield as Kenya, Canada and Korea as well as those from Britain and Ireland were joined by members of the Mary Ward
Association, family, friends, former pupils and colleagues from their many ministries in a packed Minster. Sisters from the CJ and IBVM communities In
London were joined by staff and former pupils of St. Mary's School, Hampstead and Loreto College, St. Alban's, founded by Mary Ward sisters in the 1920s.
The opening Litany of the Saints included English martyrs Margaret Clitherow, who shared a spiritual director with Mary Ward, and Blessed Francis Ingleby, a priest and cousin of Mary Ward's who was hung, drawn and quartered on York's Knavesmire in 1586. Sister Eileen McConnon IBVM added
her welcome to that of the Very Rev Keith Jones, Dean of York Minster, whose ecumenical hospitality made the celebration possible.
The Minster was hung for the occasion with banners depicting the sail of the boat in which Mary Ward and her first companions set sail for Saint Omer in Flanders to begin their pioneering work. Designed and executed by Sister Anthony Wilson SND MBE, Sheila Shepherd and volunteers at the Metropolitan Cathedral, Liverpool, they were accompanied by a pulpit hanging bearing the winning entry from the Mary Ward Jubilee Logo Competition, designed by Lily Freeston of Loreto Sixth Form College. The liturgy, organized by Sisters Anna Hawke CJ and Bernadette Turtle IBVM was superbly supported by choirs, instrumentalists and dancers from All Saints School, York, Loreto Sixth Form College, Manchester, Loreto High School, Chorlton, Manchester and Loreto Grammar and Preparatory Schools, Altrincham with their directors of music and organist Adrian Crawford. Pupils from Mary Ward schools in Hampstead, St Alban's, Ascot, Shaftesbury and Cambridge expect to feature at another Jubilee Mass to be held in Westminster Cathedral in January 2010. At Communion pupils of Loreto Preparatory School sang a song about Mary Ward whose words were written by Sister Margaret Mary Littlehales CJ, now living in retirement in the St. Joseph's community of the Bar Convent, York, aged 101. Her biography Mary Ward: Pilgrim and Mystic, was published when she was 93. Each member of the congregation received a commemorative bookmark with sayings of Mary Ward designed by Sister Cecilia Goodman CJ.
In his homily Middlesbrough Bishop Terence Drainey quoted from a sermon preached by the then Cardinal Ratzinger at the Mass to commemorate the fourth centenary of Mary Ward's birth in St Mary Major's Basilica on 23rd January 1985. "Even when she saw her work destroyed by the authority of the Church she remained, in a rebellious age, firmly anchored in the Catholic Church. The Church caused Mary Ward great suffering, but at the same time, the Church was for her, her surest consolation and peace, the ground of all ages, the guarantee of the truth of the promise: one sows and another reaps.
During the offertory procession candles were brought up which represent the continents of the world in which Mary Ward sisters live and work. In her
reflection after Communion Sister Gemma Simmonds CJ of Heythrop College, University of London, said: "Mary Ward dared to dream the impossible and
jt came true, though not in her time.
All who came to the Minster were invited to refreshments at the end of Mass and an all-day buffet at the Bar Convent. Staff there fed 940 guests, even
cutting up their own sandwiches to feed those invited. New publications about Mary Ward, issued specially for the Jubilee, were on sale to visitors including a CD by Dame Judi Dench, A World to Tell, a Life to Live: Mary Ward in Words and Music and a new edition by Sister Christina Kenworthy-Browne of A Briefe Relation, Mary Ward's oldest biography, until now kept only in private archives. The day also celebrated the opening of
the Bar Convent's Jubilee 400 Heritage Project.
The Bar Convent, York was founded in 1686 and is the oldest working convent in the UK. Trustees and sisters aim to raise £500,000 over a three year period to realise their ambition to renovate and update the Bar Convent Museum and redevelop it as a centre of living heritage. Cardinal Murphy O'Connor visited the Bar Convent for the first time and greeted many of the guests. Said Sister Mary Walmsley, the convent's superior: "We were delighted the Cardinal visited the Bar Convent after the wonderful service of celebration of Mary Ward's life and work in York Minster and we are gratified to have his support for our appeal to renovate and redevelop the museum.
In her words of thanks at the end of the Minster Mass, Sister Jane Livesey, CJ Provincial superior, added, "the prophet has at last been honoured in
her own country.
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