First night in the Anger Convent in Munich
Early in February 1631 Mary Ward was arrested by Jakob Golla, Dean of Munich, as instructed by the Roman authorities, and taken to the Poor Clare convent, the Angerkloster (‘the convent on the green’) as a prisoner. She was sick, she was exhausted. We know what happened next from the ‘Brief Relation’ – Mary Poyntz, who wrote it, was superior of the Munich community at this time, and may have heard the story when Mary Ward at last came back to them after her release.
‘There was no appearance than Death, not only in regard of the condition of her health and the quality of the place, but also that it seemed impossible that men that had wit should proceed so far and let her ever again appear abroad….making an act of resignation, and oblation of herself to God, finding an unspeakable content, peace and joy of mind in the hope she had that now was come that long wished for time, wherein she might have nothing to do but think of God, love him and depend upon him, with confidence he would have care of hers. In this disposition she went to her bed, hoping to rest very quietly, all labours being now taken out of her hands.’
But she is unable to sleep. The physical conditions – especially ‘the extreme smell the bedstead and walls had of spit and such like as contagious and dying people do ordinarily leave’ – were certainly no help, but that was not the problem. ‘The exterior she soon overcame, but in her mind grew a strong force and threat if she did not resolve to labour in the defence of her own and hers their innocency, and consequently her own delivery, which at length she promised to do, and so fell asleep which till this resolution made, she by no means could do.’
This is also a ‘resurrection moment’ – showing her that God will help her if she does all that she herself can do. From that time she leads, advises, encourages her sisters from her prison, with the help of the lemon juice letters which she is able to write, since her food is to come from the Paradeiserhaus each day: no prayer in chapel after 9p.m. or before 6a.m.,sing a cheerful song each day while she is away; write to Elizabeth Keyes, leader of the group in Rome, and suggest influential people there whom she should ask for help; how to deal with the Elector and his wife, maintaining the relationship but being careful not to presume too much, and how to relate to the nuns in the Anger Convent, especially the Abbess; what to do when they had evidence that their post was being intercepted – send it by a different route, via the sister in Augsburg of one of the German members…. When she is seriously ill, and asks the Dean’s permission for confession and holy communion, so far forbidden her, and he makes a condition that she should sign a paper saying that ‘if she has said or done anything against the teaching of Holy Church she repents’ she refuses to do it, knowing that it could be used against not only her own reputation, but also against that of her sisters. Instead, she writes her own declaration of loyalty to the Church – and Dean Golla accepts it. But the risk of dying without the sacraments was real – and she accepted it, for the sake of her now-banned Institute. It is probably true to say that she was never more strongly the leader than in this time of imprisonment.
For us, too, and for those we know and influence, ‘doing God’s will’ implies being active, letting him work through us, not sitting back and expecting him to do everything for us, while we do nothing.
Sr. Patricia Harriss CJ