The last time I asked a Loreto Sister I was visiting in Ireland if there were any resources she’d like me to bring over, she replied – ‘Actually yes, a Mary Ward statue’! In the grip of the Covid-19 pandemic, English theologian Theodora Hawksley referenced our statue on Twitter: I love this statue of Mary Ward, walking into whatever comes next. ‘I trust that God has his purposes in this, as he does in all. (MW)‘.
In 2001 the Loreto Schools Advisory Committee (LSAC) decided that “an enduring image” of Mary Ward should be commissioned for the schools. The idea was to commission an artist to produce an interpretive sculpture exploring the history and charism of Mary Ward. The intention was to bring her story to life for a new generation of young people in the schools. In commissioning sculptor Meliesa Judge from Liquid Metal Studios, the Loreto principals at the time expressed their vision for the representation of Mary Ward:
The sculpture exists to unify the Loreto community across generations and across the nation. It will become an identifying symbol. It must have grace, strength, longevity and sincere emotion. It must relate the story, communicate directly with the viewer, and bear repetition over the years.It must evoke the spirit, the message and meaning of Mary Ward’s life and work.
Almost twenty years later Meliesa Judge’s iconic sculpture continues to welcome, challenge, console and speak to all friends of Mary Ward, from the youngest student to the wisest past pupil. The sculpture is used in staff pilgrimages, induction processes for new community members, prayer gatherings, social justice and community days. I have seen Mary Ward dressed in a kimono, garlanded in pink, ‘greet’ overseas visitors, help focus social justice and community days, surrounded by ‘hands’ in the colours of the Aboriginal flag, prop up a bike on ‘Ride-to-School’ day, surrounded by Christmas hampers to be distributed to neighbours in need. Human interaction with the sculpture is quite extraordinary. One cannot stand beside Mary Ward without holding her hand, being unnerved by her penetrating gaze or wondering where her next step is going to take her … and us! The frayed fabric of her coat, the trusty back-pack and hand-clasped rosary each convey their own chapter of her story. The sculpture is pure genius; it is pilgrim, guide, mystic, teacher and friend.
Each November new student leaders from our schools gather in Loreto Toorak and Loreto Ballarat for a Leadership Conference. Part of the Toorak ‘tour’ always involves a photo of the 16 or so students gathered around Mary Ward. In the midst of a gaggle of new-found friends it is sometimes hard to locate Mary herself. I always find this image profoundly moving. When Mary Ward died in 1645 outside York she was surrounded by a handful of frightened friends and yet over 400 years later these intelligent, passionate and kind young Aussie women continue to be inspired by, and live out, her values and vision.
We honour the creativity of the principals who commissioned the sculpture.
We thank Meliesa Judge for her brilliance and skill.
We ask Mary Ward to ‘lead us on’!
Author: Anne Muirhead
Director of Mission, Loreto Ministries