Today we keep the memory of Mary Ward’s first step out of Liège on the pilgrimage path across the Alps to Rome on 21 October 1621. No other founder of a religious congregation had needed to do this – to present him/herself in person to Rome for approval of their God-given dream. Applications were always submitted to Rome through Friars and Bishops and thus congregations became subject to their authority. Mary Ward’s insight of 1611 to Take the same of the Society required her to avoid such control. Her congregation was to be subject only to the Bishop of Rome, the Pope.
Approval would also allow the young women joining Mary Ward to bring with them their dowries – securing the finances of the community which was otherwise reliant on donations.
In September 1621 Mary stayed in Brussels at the court of the Infanta Isabella, the daughter of the king of Spain. Mary requested letters of recommendation for the Roman Curia, which Isabella prepared and sent to her diplomat in Rome. It may have been during this time that the famous portrait of Mary Ward, which hangs in the convent in Augsburg, was painted by a colleague from the workshop of Peter Paul Rubens. He had been the court painter to the Infanta since 1609.
The intrepid group of pilgrims consisted of Mary Ward and her closest companions: Winefrid Wigmore, Barbara Ward, Susan Rookwood, Margaret Horde and Anne Turner. They were also accompanied by the priest Henry Lee and the gentleman Robert Wright. They had a servant and two horses – one to carry the luggage and the other the most exhausted person. On the advice of the Infanta they travelled in pilgrim clothes because it made them less interesting for a robbery – which happened anyway!
Diary records indicate there was a regular observance of prayer along the way: prayer in common and personal time of contemplation; the beauty of nature inspired praise of the Creator, the Rosary was recited and the day was concluded with the ‘Te Deum’, “Laudate Dominum omnes gentes’ and a chapter from the legends of the saints.
This first trek across the Alps ended two months later with their arrival in Piazza del Popolo, Rome on Christmas Eve, 1621.
Translated from the original written by Sister Ursula Dirmeier CJ of the Middle European Province