Over 400 years ago, Mary Ward wrote these words:
“Fervour is not placed in feelings, but in a will to do well which women may have as well as men. There is no such difference between men and women that women may not do great things/matters, as we have seen by examples of many saints who have done great things… And I hope in God it will be seen that women in time to come will do much.”
(From The Gift of Mary Ward, Christine Burke ibvm)
Even though these words, particularly the final sentence, are familiar to those of us already connected to the Mary Ward circle of friends, we might not know their context. In 1617 Mary became aware that her community and early work in St Omer was attracting the negative attention of the Cardinals in Rome who had ultimately dismissed her at this time by suggesting that their “fervour will decay because they ‘are but women.’” Incensed by this, Mary responded in a number of talks to her community in St Omer which have become known as the verity speeches concluding with the now familiar exhortation above that “women in time to come will do much”.
On International Women’s Day 2019, it is beyond dispute that women have in the last 400 years of time indeed done much. Mary Ward could only have dreamed about the achievements that the girls and women who came after her would reach and the contributions they would make to the world and the Church as teachers, doctors, writers, inventors, politicians, explorers, artists, scientists, mothers, builders, leaders and so much more. A common factor in the achievements of such women, is their education. That gift which Mary Ward fought so hard to ensure would be open to girls so that in her time and our time girls could fulfil their human dignity and innate potential to flourish into the beings they were created to be, human beings fully alive reflecting, as St Irenaeus said, the glory of God.
When girls and women today, both in Australia and around the world, are oppressed, excluded, under paid, sexualised, marginalised, ignored, forced into marriage, trafficked, under-represented in Parliament, subjected to physical violence at home, travel fearfully on suburban streets, and are dismissed from authority and a real voice in the Church, then we know that Mary Ward’s rebuke, that “women in time will come to do much,” is still a reminder that we must both hold on to and work side by side for, to create the circumstances where that will indeed become the reality.
Like Mary Ward the girls and women in our Loreto schools and communities must speak out and stand up – for themselves and in solidarity alongside those whose voices are seldom heard. On International Women’s Day let’s celebrate but reiterate, there is more to be done. Our fervour still burns.
Director of Mission and Leadership
Loreto Mandeville Hall Toorak
Member, Loreto Justice Network
Image Courtesy of Ballarat Courier