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St Mary’s marks its formidable foundress’ birthday

St Mary’s marks its formidable foundress’ birthday

Students enjoyed a host of celebrations on Monday 23 January to mark Mary Ward Day – the 438th birthday of the 17th Century English nun, who relentlessly fought for equal opportunities for education for women and whose work inspired the founding of the school 125 years ago.

St Mary’s students celebrated Mary Ward Day with a range of activities, including a whole school morning mass. This was followed by a fun afternoon of tutor form parties, which included party food, games and decorations.

Mary Ward is often referred to as the first sister of feminism. Campaigning tirelessly – over many years – Mary and her band of Jesuitesses fought long and hard for women to have equal access to education. With nuns of the time expected to live a monastic life, Mary’s work was considered controversial in many quarters – but this didn’t stop her. After founding her own order, which was banned by the Church, she walked across the Alps (more than once) to Rome. Covering 1500 miles on foot, to lobby the Pope to recognise her work, she ended up imprisoned for heresy because of her beliefs.

Several years later, Mary was cleared of all charges and allowed to restart her work. She wasted no time opening a number of schools for girls – but sadly her life was plagued by ill health. Mary continued to live in Italy until 1637 when she moved back to England. She died in Yorkshire in 1645. Mary’s order of nuns and her Institute didn’t receive definitive approval from the Catholic Church until 1877 – more than 200 years after her death – and it wasn’t until 1909 that she was acknowledged as its founder. One hundred years later, in 2009, Ward was declared Venerable by Pope Benedict XVI. Today, Mary Ward’s legacy lives on via a network of almost 200 Mary Ward schools worldwide – including St Mary’s School, Cambridge.

Charlotte Avery, Headmistress at St Mary’s School, said:

“Every year we mark the life of our foundress with a day of celebrations on her birthday. Mary Ward was an immensely facinating woman, who tirelessly fought for equal rights to education for girls – at great personal cost. Revolutionary for her time, she had the courage to stand up for her beliefs.  She forged a better way forward for women in education and, today, we work hard to ensure her work is understood and applauded by our girls.”

Find out more about Mary Ward.