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A campaign has been launched to see an “extraordinary Yorkshire woman and pioneer” declared a saint.
Mary Ward was born near Ripon in 1585 and spent much of her life striving for equal education for women.
In 2009 she was declared Venerable by Pope Benedict XVI, which was the first step on the road to canonisation and sainthood.
Sister Ann Stafford, from York’s Bar Convent, said Ward had “campaigned for the dignity of women all her life”.
“We truly believe that Mary Ward is a vital role model for our time,” she added.
Ward founded the Congregation of Jesus who reside at the Bar Convent.
The convent, founded in 1686, is backing the campaign to have Ward declared a saint by the Catholic Church.
A convent spokesperson described Ward as a “pioneer” who paved the way for girls to be educated in schools to the same standard as boys.
While the country’s first school for girls was opened in London, the second was in the Bar Convent.
Ward is quoted as saying in 1617: “There is no such difference between men and women that women may not do great things – and I hope in God it will be seen that women in time to come will do much.”
Sister Elizabeth Cotter, Canon Lawyer and Postulator for the Cause of Venerable Mary Ward, said: “As part of our case, we need to provide evidence that Mary Ward remains relevant today.
“Key to this was her passionate belief that ‘women in time to come will do much’ which has always been the driving force of followers who brought her vision to 42 countries from her time and up to the present day.”
She added: “This recognition by the church would provide the women of our time with a fine example of the church’s willingness to promote the dignity of women in a world which badly needs such witness.”
Pope John Paul II singled out Ward as an “extraordinary Yorkshire woman and a pioneer” in 1982 when he celebrated a Mass in York attended by 210,000 people.
The campaign to have her declared a saint has been launched as part of Mary Ward Week, which runs until 30 January, to mark the anniversaries of her birth and death.
Ward died in 1645 and was buried at Osbaldwick churchyard in York. Her foundation did not receive the approval of the church until 1877.
Pic: Sister Ann Stafford with Mary Ward’s crucifix