A Woman’s Perspective on Ignatian Spirituality

Upwards of a hundred lively faces gathered in the Regis College St. Joseph Chapel on the evening of February 7, as we were blessed to welcome a friend and scholar to Regis College, Sr. Gemma Simmonds of the Congregation of Jesus. Gemma Simmonds is a senior lecturer in pastoral theology at the Margaret Beaufort Institute of Theology in Cambridge, UK, and travels the globe, speaking about the legacy of Mary Ward, who founded the Congregation of Jesus in 1609.

“I am firmly of the mind that there is such a thing as a woman’s perspective,” began Gemma in explaining the title of her lecture “A View from the (Other) Bridge: a Woman’s Perspective on Ignatian Spirituality.” Being an extraordinary genius when it came to understanding the human condition, St. Ignatius understood and recognized the great capacity of women, as well as men, to be in the deepest and most intimate possible relationship with God. This recognition of women and their great capacity to know, love and serve God was affirmed by St. Ignatius, in a time in history where women’s voices and perspectives were not valued or appreciated.

Mary Ward’s life story was shaped by her encounter and experience with the Ignatian exercises; it was through them that she discovered her true identity “as a woman, equal and valued before God.” This revelation inspired her to not only to live out the Jesuit life herself (which she did when she founded the Congregation of Jesus), but it also allowed her to share this message with the women of her time, breaking boundaries and paving pathways to the many women who followed in her footsteps.

In her lecture Dr. Gemma brought us on a journey through the life of the Venerable Mary Ward by way of The Painted Life of Mary Ward, each image representing an episode Mary’s life and containing many layers of deep symbolism. Sr. Gemma Simmonds unpacked these major life events, revealing the deep and hidden meaning behind the paintings as it relates to both the women of history as well as the women of today. The primary message that can be drawn from both the images as well as Mary Ward’s life story is that the first thing we can and should learn about Jesus, through the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, is how to be fully alive and fully human – man and woman alike (Karl Rahner, SJ). Understanding the self in this way, instills in us a great capacity to love others and love God through others. This recognition of our value as human beings, equal and loved by God, allows us to embrace who we are in our weakened human state and to begin our journey to interior freedom.

Regis College extends its gratitude to the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (IBVM) Loretto Sisters, who co-sponsored this event. If you would like to donate and help support further programming on Women and Ignatian Spirituality, please click here or email Enloe Wilson, Director of Advancement: enloe.wilson@utoronto.ca.