The Bull of Suppression

From 1629 onwards, Mary Ward’s foundations in Prague, Vienna, Cologne, Trier, Naples and Liege were all suppressed, and the sisters were urged to return to their families or to join other approved religious communities. Only the sisters in Munich survived due to the protection of the Elector Maximilian, although they lived in extreme poverty for a number of years.

For several months in 1631, Mary was imprisoned in a Poor Clare convent in Munich by order of the Inquisition. When she was released, she and several companions went to Rome in 1632, where she proclaimed that she was neither disobedient nor a heretic. She was responding to the accusations levelled at her and her Institute in the Bull of Suppression.

The Bull claimed that Mary Ward’s proposed way of life was:

…most unsuited to their weak sex and character, to female modesty and particularly to maidenly reserve.. “

Of her followers, the Bull stated they were:

arrogantly and obstinately disobey[ing] our paternal and salutary warnings to the grave disadvantage of their own souls and the disgust of all good people.”

The Bull stated:

We have decreed that such great temerity must be repressed by sharper censure and that these poisonous growths in the Church of God must be torn up by the roots lest they spread themselves further. And therefore, after mature consideration with our venerable brothers, Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church, … we decree and declare … that the pretended Congregation of women or virgins called Jesuitesses and their sect and state was and is from its very beginning null and void and of no authority or importance. And because they have in fact grown, with the same authority we totally and completely suppress and extinguish them, subject them to perpetual abolition and remove them entirely from the Holy Church of God.

We destroy and annul them, and we wish and command all Christian faithful to consider them and think of them as suppressed, extinct, rooted out, destroyed and abolished.”

Partial Text of Pope Urban VIII’s Bull of Suppression – Pastoralis Romani Pontificis

In her book, ‘Under the Shadow of the Inquisition’, Sr Immolata Wetter highlights how a letter written by Mary Ward in April 1630, in which she invited her sisters to obey only an order from the Pope himself to disband, was interpreted by members of the Curia as resisting the process of suppression and flouting episcopal authority.

It was not until 1909, three hundred years after that first foundation, that Mary Ward’s followers were granted permission by the Church to acknowledge her as foundress and the process of rehabilitation began.

Although not quite a happy ending in the traditional sense, the fact is, that despite the best efforts of some to destroy her and eradicate all traces of her Institute, 2009 saw thousands of her Sisters and students marking the 400th anniversary of her first foundation.

Across the world her followers in the 21st century continue to keep Mary Ward’s pioneering vision alive of what ‘women might do’.