M. Immolata Wetter, CJ, Mary Ward Under the Shadow of the Inquisition, 1630-1637, translated by M. Bernadette Ganne CJ and M. Patricia Harriss CJ. With an introduction by M. Gregory Kirkus CJ. Way Books, Campion Hall, Oxford, 2006.

M. Immolata Wetter, CJ, Mary Ward Under the Shadow of the Inquisition, 1630-1637, translated by M. Bernadette Ganne CJ and M. Patricia Harriss CJ.  With an introduction by M. Gregory Kirkus CJ.  Way Books, Campion Hall, Oxford, 2006.  £12.00, ISBN 0 904717 28 3, 222 p.

Reviewed by Dr Laurence Lux-Sterritt, LERMA, Université d’Aix-Marseille, France, July 2007.

The author of Mary Ward Under the Shadow of the Inquisition, 1630-1637, Sister Immolata Wetter (1913-2005), was a member of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (now the Congregation of Jesus); between 1953 and 1967, she worked with Postulator Josef Grisar SJ, compiling documents for the cause of Mary Ward’s canonisation.  This book, translated from the German by M. Bernadette Ganne and M. Patricia Harris, and introduced by M. Gregory Kirkus, all members of the Institute themselves, is therefore a compassionate account in which characters come to life.  Through documentary evidence, a reconstruction of events seeks to highlight Ward’s innocence and her devotion to the Church (p. 46 and p. 54 for instance).  Because of its sympathetic style, this study will therefore be handled with some care as a historical monograph; yet its natural partiality does not detract from its scholarship, nor from its meticulous method in disclosing material kept at the Vatican secret archives, which opened to the public in 1998.  The resulting work throws much light upon the complicated and often puzzling period during which Mary Ward faced the Inquisition.

Starting with the year 1630, when the Institute’s houses in Rome, Perugia and Naples had been suppressed, the author deals with Mary Ward’s strained relationship with the particular Congregation of Cardinals entrusted by Urban VIII to examine her work.  When it became apparent that they intended to suppress the Institute, Ward  addressed her sisters in Trier, Cologne and Liège in a letter dated April 1630, in which she invited her companions to disobey bishops unless ordered to disband by the Pope himself.  Using this letter as a starting point, Immolata Wetter highlights the initial role played by Winefrid Wigmore who, in her capacity as Visitor to the Northern houses of the Institute, encouraged her companions to resist the process of suppression.  In the tense circumstances of September 1630, some members left the Institute whilst others faced interrogation for flouting episcopal authority.

The records of these sessions testify to the complexity of the conflict which was to lead to the eradication of the Institute with the papal Bull Pastoralis Romani Pontificis in 1631 (the text of which is to be found in an appendix).  There were misgivings about the vows taken by the Ladies, as well as about the hierarchical infrastructure of the Institute, even more so since Ward’s companions claimed that no man except the Pope could dissolve the vows they had made under the authority of their Superior.  Moreover, the Congregation wished both to establish whether the Institute’s members considered themselves religious or lay, and to clarify their relationship with the Society of Jesus.  From the Ladies’ dogged determination to remain faithful to their vocations despite clerical orders to disperse, Propaganda inferred that Mary Ward had usurped the ecclesiastical authority of the Holy See; on 7 February 1631, she was imprisoned in the Anger Poor Clare convent in Munich, whilst on 13 February 1631 Winefrid Wigmore was taken into custody at the Grey Sisters in Liège, where she stayed until 28 May 1632.  Although Ward herself was released on 14 April 1631, she remained under the strict surveillance of the Inquisition; her repeated pleas for her Institute went unheeded and, after many tribulations, the suppression was made official by the publication of the Bull in the summer 1631.

Yet the foundress did not abandon hope and she travelled to Rome in March 1632, seeking an audience with the Holy Father himself and stressing her obedience.  After considering the situations of the Institute members in the houses which had not yet been fully dissolved, Immolata Wetter ends her investigation with Mary Ward’s last efforts in Rome up to 1638; the Inquisition documents stop at that date, with the Englishwoman’s planned return to her native land, bearing a letter of recommendation from Cardinal Barberini to the Queen, Henrietta Maria.

To complement the author’s text, the editors of the English translation have added a useful final chapter in order to shed light upon the relationship between Mary Ward and papal authority beyond the year 1638.  This informative section explains the critical phases of negotiations which led to her partial recognition by Benedict XIV with Quamvis Justo in 1749, and eventually to her full rehabilitation by Pius X in 1909.  The explanatory footnotes used in this chapter would certainly have proved very useful to clarify some of the author’s text as well, all the more since, regrettably, there are no archival references for the documents discussed.   Indeed, the exactitude of this study presents its own challenges, since the abundance of detail makes it, at times, a little laborious to read.  During the Inquisition’s investigation on the Institute, correspondence with Rome often suffered great delays, making for puzzling gaps in a process which otherwise was pervaded with a sense of emergency; moreover, the rumours which preceded official decrees unavoidably contributed to the blurring of the boundaries between the officious and the official.  When action was taken on the basis of those rumours, official decrees became redundant since their orders had been carried out even before they were received, therefore making the precise reconstruction of chronological order of events a particularly delicate task.

Immolata Wetter’s work on the Inquisition archives therefore provides a new and detailed account of the most intense phase of the crisis which opposed Mary Ward to the Curia, and contributes to a much clearer understanding of this episode in the history of the Institute.  It shows how communication was at times impossible between an Englishwoman, pressed by her personal vocation and conditioned by her past experience of English recusancy, and the representatives of the ecclesiastical establishment in Rome. Their respective viewpoints upon the roles to be played by women in the mission of Catholic recovery in seventeenth-century Europe were ultimately irreconcilable.