Mary Ward was born on January 23rd, 1585 to Marmaduke Ward and Ursula Wright in Northumberland County, North Yorkshire. She was the eldest child of six children.
During her childhood, her family had to move constantly. So, we can say it was at that time that her life of pilgrimage started, which influenced her so greatly that she can be called “the eternal pilgrim of God’s Will”.
She spent the last years of her childhood at her cousins’ house, the Bapthorpe. It was there that she felt called to the religious life.
Mary knew that if she wanted to fulfil her religious calling, she would have to leave England. She didn’t know any religious order, and she couldn’t get information about them because she lived in an atmosphere of persecution and heresy, which caused the suppression of religious houses. Thus, she decided to enter a monastery in the Netherlands, as many other compatriots did at that time.
Once having got her father’s permission and after having left her country, she set off to the unknown in 1606. At that time, her life was full of uncertainty. She wanted to reach Saint Omer, which belonged to the Spanish Monarchy and was ruled by Albert of Austria and Isabella Clara Eugenia, the favourite daughter of Philip II. Its proximity to Calais as well as its catholic atmosphere made this city the perfect place to harbour a variety of religious orders. Thus, she decided to found a monastery of Poor Clares for English women. But things were going to change radically. On May 2nd, 1606, she understood she was God’s Instrument to do “something greater”
It was not God’s Will for her to lead a contemplative life and instead decided to dedicate herself to an active ministry. She found herself surrounded by a band of devoted companions determined to work under her guidance, taking active part in the defence of the Faith and proclaiming the Catholic Reformation. She came back to London to do her best and carry out a direct apostolate: with the poor, the rich, the ill, with everybody who needed her…..She understood there were many fields, inconceivable for women at that time, in which she could help others. This is the way she began a new Apostolic religious life.
It was in this heroic atmosphere that Mary Ward’s vocation reached maturity. She knew it was necessary to found a congregation of women who could freely move, without cloisters, without monastic habits and who could carry out the tasks of defending and promote the Faith, paying special attention to the young.