Mission and Ministry
By ‘universal mission’ we understand a mission without frontiers. In the past this might have been interpreted solely as without geographical frontiers. Today, we understand ‘without frontiers’ to mean that there are no places or peoples to whom we would not be ready to bring the saving love of Christ.
Universal mission can take us to places where others cannot easily go, such as to the tribal areas of north-east India and to Cuba, but equally to the inner cities of the secular west, to educate women and girls in particular, to the care of those without sufficient food, health care, work or shelter, and to the peripheries symbolised by migrants and those who are trafficked, especially women and children. Universal mission will take us to ‘places’ we have not been before. The criteria for choice will be ‘where or what is the greatest need’. New areas identified for mission are with trafficked women, with the media, in teaching theology in institutes of higher education, and in advocacy. In every aspect of our mission we are aware of its ecological dimension and our responsibility to care for our common home, as well as to engage in issues involving justice and peace.
We form our sisters to be mobile and available, willing to go wherever they are sent. We expect them to strive, like Mary Ward, to have that inner freedom to respond to the call to leave all and follow Christ with passion and compassion.
A particular ministry is how mission works out at the local or national level. The menu tabs give examples of a wide range of ministries in which our sisters are engaged. We are always on mission, even though, as individuals grow frailer their ministry becomes more focussed on exercising a ministry of prayer and suffering for the whole world.
Mary Ward’s first ministries were the teaching of young women and girls in boarding and day schools because this was where she discerned the greatest need. However, she understood mission in a much wider sense, and in her plan for her Institute submitted to Pope Urban VIII, she listed ‘seeking out women of doubtful lives; reconciling those estranged from the Church; assisting and serving prisoners and those in hospitals, and indeed undertaking any other works of charity which seem proper to further the glory of God and the common good’.
The suppression of the institute by Papal Bull in 1631 meant the closure of all Mary Ward’s schools. However, if the Church was not prepared to allow women to live an apostolic, unenclosed life lay Catholics still wanted their daughters educated. Mary Ward’s sisters were encouraged to open schools wherever they went, often with the blessing and support of the local bishop.
Over the passage of time schools became our sole ministry up until the Second Vatican Council when the Church encouraged religious congregations to return to the spirit of their founders, and the concept of ‘universal mission’ where ‘the need is greatest’ became the key criterion for new ministries.