News and blog

St Mary’s School marks namesake’s birthday with celebrations, BBC Radio Cambridgeshire and BBC Radio 4 interviews

St Mary’s School marks namesake’s birthday with celebrations, BBC Radio Cambridgeshire and BBC Radio 4 interviews

Students at St Mary’s School in Cambridge enjoyed a host of celebrations on Friday 21 January to mark Mary Ward Day (23 January) – the birthday of the formidable 17th Century English nun, who fought for equal opportunities for education for women, and whose work inspired the founding of the school almost 125 years ago. St Mary’s staff and pupils were also buzzing with excitement with Headmistress, Charlotte Avery, interviewed live on BBC Radio 4, and Sixth Form student Miryam G. interviewed on BBC Radio Cambridgshire about this incredible historical figure.

Ahead of Mary Ward Day, Charlotte Avery and Sister Jane Livesey CJ appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour. Charlotte and Jane talked to Anita Rani about the life and legacy of the school's namesake, the venerable Mary Ward. Often referred to as the first sister of feminism, Mary Ward campaigned tirelessly for women to have equal access to education. She even walked across the Alps to lobby the Pope; but was imprisoned because of her beliefs. You can listen to the Woman’s Hour interview here.

As the school’s headmistress spoke on national radio about Mary Ward, St Mary’s students celebrated the foundress of their school with a range of activities. Junior School pupils enjoyed an online morning assembly about Mary Ward, hosted by The Faith Council. The whole school then enjoyed a Mary Ward birthday party at lunchtime, with banners and food. A ribbon was cut to mark the opening of a new chaplaincy room. One student even dressed up as Mary Ward. To end the day the school gathered for an online Mass with Sister Jane Livesey CJ.

Charlotte Avery, Headmistress at St Mary’s School, said:

“Mary Ward was a truly facinating woman, who relentlessly fought for equal rights to education for girls. She believed that ‘Women in time to come will do much’ and she was most certainly right! Mary’s plight may be well-known within our school, but she is still relatively unknown in wider circles. It was incredible to talk about her life on national radio and explain how we – and other Mary Ward schools worldwide – are keeping her legacy alive. Revolutionary for her time, Mary Ward stood up for her beliefs and forged the way for better educational opportunities for women – something we must never forget!”

Mary Ward was an extraordinary 17th Century nun, whose work was considered controversial. Rather than living the enclosed monastic life expected of nuns at the time, Mary founded the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary and built a network of houses and schools for girls – first in England, and then across Europe. On several occasions, Mary walked from Belgium to Rome – covering 1500 miles on foot – to make her case for female education to the Pope and get her work recognised. Despite this arduous journey, which traversed the Alps, her pleas fell on deaf ears and she was labelled a heretic and imprisoned. Several years later, Mary was cleared of heresy and allowed to restart her work. She reopened her schools – but her life was plagued by ill health. Mary continued to live in Italy until 1637 when she moved back to England. She died in Yorkshire in 1645. You can find out more about Mary Ward here

Mary’s order of nuns and her Institute didn’t receive definitive approval from the Catholic Church until 1877 – more than 200 years after her death – and it wasn’t until 1909 that she was acknowledged as its founder. One hundred years later, in 2009, Ward was declared Venerable by Pope Benedict XVI. Today, Mary Ward’s legacy lives on via a network of almost 200 Mary Ward schools worldwide – including St Mary’s School in Cambridge.

This morning, to continue to spread the message of Mary Ward on such a special day, Sixth Form student, Maryam G., was interviewed on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire by presenter Louise Hulland. She discussed the importance of Mary Ward on her own ambitions and educational pathway, the network of Mary Ward schools and gave an excellent account of Mary Ward and her life. Maryam said:

"When I am sitting in my A Level Maths, Further Maths, Physics and Music lessons, I think that it is because of work like hers that I can even study the subjects that I am studying now with such belief in myself to push my limits and break barriers, especially since three of them are STEM subjects. It is because of her activism that I am being educated at a sixth form level with complete confidence of my potential, and it is because of her campaigning that I am aspiring to study at a good university. She is inspirational to me, to have a voice in and out of school and to be able to voice my opinion with confidence because she did the same, almost 400 years ago, in the space of comparatively much greater adversity."

Listen to Maryam's interview here, at approx 2:47:00 into the programme