Andrew D. Nicholls, Ph.D., Professor of History
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Dr. Andrew Nicholls
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Dr. Andrew Nicholls
Dr. Martin Ederer
In late Tudor and Stuart England, exercising one’s Catholic beliefs could potentially lead to a martyr’s reward. Since the practice of Catholicism was clandestine, homes became parishes within themselves, with the woman of the house serving as pastoral administrator. She was charged with taking care of the priests she was illegally harboring, and she was also responsible for educating the young in the ways of the Faith to ensure it did not die with her generation. These were indeed subversive acts, because she defied the State and its laws. Mary Ward, foundress of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the first self-governing unenclosed order of female religious, was born into Elizabeth’s England in 1585, and experienced this subversive activity through the way the Catholic recusant women in her life managed their homes. She also experienced a much different Church than her Catholic brethren on the Continent had; the Catholic Church in England had little structure, with secular priests and Jesuits fighting for the souls of England’s faithful. Her lack of understanding of the Church’s hierarchal structure and chain of command, coupled with her increasingly independent approach to spiritual discernment, resulted in her Institute’s suppression by Pope Urban VIII in 1630. Though modern journalists may portray her as one of the Church’s first feminists, Ward did not create the Institute because she desired more power for women in the Church. Rather, like her foremothers, she desired that God’s will to preserve the Catholic faith in England be done through her.
Borowczyk, Alyson, "“I am the Handmaid of the Lord”: The Spiritual Development of Mary Ward Amidst English Catholic Clerical Crisis, 1585 – 1630" (2017). History Theses. 43.