The importance of this year's Mary Ward values: valuing friendship and respecting self
One of the most well-known visual images in the world must be Michelangelo’s ‘creation of Adam’ in the Sistine Chapel. It expresses the conviction that each person is created by God and loved by God. This is the foundation of the Mary Ward characteristic of ‘Respecting self’. It also underpins the characteristic of ‘Valuing friendship’, which we are also focusing on this year at St Mary’s. In the Seven Day creation story in Genesis everything created was deemed ‘good’ by God. If God thinks we are good, who are we to disagree with that?
We derive our self-respect partly from the way we are treated by others and we were delighted to welcome many new students to St Mary’s at the start of the school year. The students new to Year 7 took part in a welcome ceremony in which they were called by name to come up one by one to light a candle, receive a card and be welcomed warmly by Miss Avery. It has become a tradition to use the same cloths each year. They retain some wax deposits from previous ceremonies to emphasise that our students belong to a living and growing ‘Mary Ward’ family and that they will contribute to that tradition.
Our new boarders also took part in a welcome liturgy at the beginning of the Autumn Term. Arising from reading the parable of the mustard seed in St Mark’s gospel, we reflected on the fact that each person has unique gifts, some social, practical, spiritual, intellectual, physical and some creative. Everyone has something to offer which will grow within them and enrich our lives together. We also thought about the account of the Early Church community described by St Luke in the Acts of the Apostles. The early Christians worshiped as part of their traditional Jewish communities as well as in their new Christian fellowship. Here in school we seek to live, pray, worship and act together whether we come from a secular, Christian or other faith tradition, as far as we are able. They were sensitive to the needs of the whole group and responded to those needs with generosity.
Mary Ward was a woman who challenged the misconception of women’s abilities and worth in her generation and she met considerable opposition. She undertook many risky ventures with intrepidity and coped with humiliation and failure along the way. It is unlikely that she would have been able to do this without the support of her friends. We have many letters she wrote to friends in the years when she was establishing and developing her schools and they bear testimony to the close friendships on which she relied for practical, emotional and spiritual support.
From the life of our foundress and from observation of the world around us we can see there is no doubt that we can always do more together than we can alone. We are pleased with what we have been able to do together to improve the lives of our wider ‘circle of friends’ in the Mary Ward family. We saw that money raised by our charity events towards the building of a secondary school in Zimbabwe, run by CJ sisters, has come to fruition. In assembly we saw photographs of the newly completed building and assisted with its furnishings through contributions we made from fundraising during this school year and the last. Our ‘Smarties tube’ campaign has resulted in toilet twinning in communities in Mali, Malawi, Zambia and Tanzania, a gesture expressing our friendship with every human being who deserves to be treated with dignity.
The values of respecting self and valuing friendship are extremely important in a world in which image, success, celebrity, division and discord are such dominant features. We hope that in the spirit of Mary Ward our students and staff will be trailblazers promoting the value and goodness of each person from the safe place of knowing they are loved by God and our community.
- Kay Dodsworth, Lay Chaplain