At the end of July 1993, members of the IBVM Irish and North American Generalates of Mary Ward’s Foundation, Cecilia O’Dwyer and Jean Okroi, embarked on what was a memorable and moving experience for us.
For the first time, members of the General Council/ Leadership team were invited to join an IBMV General Congregation. We were aware that history was being made when the invitation arrived. Our presence in Ascot was a significant step of interconnection that has led us to where we are today.
We witnessed the emotional experience of delegates from Eastern Europe who attended their General Congregation after a “pause” of forty years. It is an understatement to say that it was not easy for them to share openly in our small group meetings. Imagine what it is like to be asked to share deeply when it was totally impossible to do so in your own culture, given the State vigilance over every move a person takes.
During the time for Reports and stocktaking, we were honored to be invited to give and account of our branch of the Institute. We did not imagine back then that we would be moving towards the final steps of the Union process at this point.
We were also privileged to be present at the General Congregation where the first Asian General Superior was elected. After her election, Sr. Annunciata Pak shared the story of her vocation. Coming from a Communist background, the powerful impact of Jesus on her life, meeting a priest who knew the IBMV Sisters in Germany, and finally moving to the novitiate along with a band of Korean women and returning to Korea where she set up the up the Mary Ward Institute was the beginning of an extraordinary adventure. This journey of hers led to her election as General Superior in 1993.
As we look back on that month, we recognize the far-reaching decisions taken. We were privileged to have been part of it.
The General Congregation was called to live the Jesuit Constitutions in a creative manner as women not simply imitating the Society of Jesus. It reiterated the fact that mission determines the life of the Institute. Discussion on the name of the Institute led to the present denomination. As we look back on that month, we recognize the far-reaching decisions taken. We were privileged to have been part of it.
The entire General Congregation was arranged within the context of Mary Ward’s life. A pilgrimage to St-Omer brought us to the Cathedral where she celebrated Mass. Representatives from the three Generalates spoke to the importance of this occasion in their homilies. This was the first time a General Congregation returned to Mary Ward’s place of birth.
Among those Mary Ward England sites visited in York and surrounding Yorkshire were: Mulwith, Babthorpes homes and Mt. Grace. The poignant visit to Mt Grace to which Mary had such devotion stands apart. As we prayed together, the impact of the sudden death of Sr. Agustine from the Czech Province brought us face to face with the mystery of death. Death struck as the congregation labored to bring forth a new vision and sense of who they desired to become.
At the closing liturgy at Olsbaldwick we gathered around Mary Ward’s tombstone remembering her last words: “Cherish God’s vocation in you; let it be constant, efficacious and loving.”
Cecilia O’Dwyer and Jean Okroi IBVM