One of the earliest pioneers of women’s education, Mary Ward, will be recognised in Western Australia and around the world this year with celebrations of the 400th anniversary of the Institute she founded.
Mary Ward was an Englishwoman who founded the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary – Loreto Sisters. She believed women and men were of equal intellect and that women could achieve great things. Her Institute began when she started teaching young women in 1609.
For remaining faithful to her insights, she was imprisoned by the Church and those who joined her were disbanded and the Institute suppressed. However, the work of education continued in pockets across Europe. In 1909, Mary Ward was officially recognised as the official founder of the Institute.
WA Loreto Sister, Sr Marg Finlay said: “The purpose of the celebrations is to claim Mary Ward’s vision, values, spirituality and prophetic response in our 21st century context.
“Her message for the contemporary Church was not a cry for equality with men, but a call for the recognition of what women could do, and for freedom to put their abilities into practice.”
Mary Ward’s legacy is evident today with Mary Ward women working in 43 countries across the world. About 4000 sisters are involved in education, health care and community building.
They are found working with those most in need – prisoners, indigenous communities, those living with HIV, trafficked women and women suffering from domestic violence.
“In Western Australia, the Loreto Sisters are involved in education at Loreto Nedlands and John XXIII College in Mt Claremont,” Sr Finlay said.
“Our work also involves supporting and assisting in a Night Shelter for Homeless Women in Fremantle and Chaplaincy within the Women’s Prison and a Public Hospital.
“Other Sisters are involved in the Pastoral Ministry associated with a group of remote, rural towns in the State’s Mid-West.
“Here in Perth, two women’s circles meet monthly. One of these, the Circle of Peace engages in inter-faith activities where Christian, Muslim and Jewish women meet to share and learn more about their beliefs and values.”
The anniversary will be celebrated internationally with a pilgrimage to Rome from October 4-9, 2009. An extended pilgrimage will continue across Europe to places of significance in Mary Ward’s life.
Closer to home, several celebrations will be held in Perth including:
• March 20, 2009 – A Past Students’ Reunion at John XXIII College.
• May 22, 2009 – A special Eucharist will be celebrated by Archbishop Barry Hickey for all past students, students and friends at John XXIII College, Mt Claremont.
• September 1, 2009 – Loreto in Australia – book launch and the Mary Ward Justice Lecture at Loreto Primary School Nedlands.