Feast Day: 30 August
Saint Margaret Ward is one of the three women to be included in the 40 martyrs of England and Wales, canonised by Pope Paul VI in 1970.
Margaret was born in Cheshire but ended up living most her life in London. She lived during the reign of Elizabeth I, a time when Catholic persecution was at one of its highest points. As Margaret worked for a high-ranking female, she learned of the severe maltreatment of Fr Richard Watson, a priest confined at Bridewell Prison.
Saving a priest’s life
She decided she would attempt to save this priest. At the time, this priest would most likely be eventually executed. Saving him would be no small endeavour as security around him would be particularly high.
Margaret Ward began by gaining permission to visit him and started doing so on a regular basis. She was thoroughly searched before and after early visits, but gradually the authorities became less cautious, and she managed to smuggle a rope into the prison.
On the day of his rescue, Fr Richard used the rope to escape through the window, However, in doing so, he was injured and was unable to retrieve the rope once he was out.
Next, Margaret and Fr Richard faced another challenge when the boatman, who had pre-arranged to take the priest to safety, refused to carry out his side of the bargain. Ward, in her distress, confided in another boatman, John Roche, who undertook to assist her.
Arrested and hanged
He provided a boat, and exchanged clothes with the priest. Fr. Richard escaped, but John was captured in his place. Margaret, having been Fr. Richard’s only visitor, was also arrested.
In prison, Margaret was hung from her hands for eight days and scourged. Despite this, she refused to disclose any information about Fr. Richard or his whereabouts. At her trial, she admitted to having helped Fr. Richard to escape, and rejoiced in “having delivered an innocent lamb from the hands of those bloody wolves.”
She was offered a pardon if she would attend a Protestant service, but refused. She was hanged at Newgate on 30 August 1588, along with Edward Shelley, Richard Martin, Richard Leigh, Richard Lloyd (alias Flower) and John Roche.
Why Margaret Ward is inspiring
A reflection from someone in our young Catholic community
There is something particularly inspiring about the lives of saints from England, particularly of those who chose to give up their life for what they believed. Margaret was born and lived in Cheshire and London. She was courageous and helped in any way she knew how.
Her life is, and will always be, a challenge to me to never be ashamed of my faith and always stand up for it, despite what others may think.