John Aloysius Ward OFM Cap 1929 - 2007
Archbishop Emeritus of Cardiff

Born 24 January 1929
Professed OFM Cap 8 September 1947
Ordained Priest 7 June 1953
Consecrated Bishop of Menevia (including Wrexham) 2 February 1981
Archbishop of Cardiff 25th March 1983 - 26 October 2001
Died 27 March 2007

The face of the cross

 

 

"Life's sufferings touch men, women and children in so many ways - hidden as well as un-hidden. Suffering has become much more than a puzzle, philosophical or theological. It has become a main task in today's world: to recognise suffering; to make it redemptive; to unite with science and bring healing. Joy does not follow sadness; good things are not a reward for bad things. Rather the beautiful things are built right into the ugly things. It is a package deal; life, like flowers, grows only in dirt." (Homily of Archbishop Ward to the Association of British Contemplatives.8 November 1996.)

John Ward was born 24th January 1929. As a small child he lost both his parents and was reared by his grandmother. Mrs Cheetham ran a ship's chandlery (where John subsequently picked up some Welsh) an ice cream round, a garage or two and numerous other business enterprises. They were generally very successful. She had views about her grandson's future. One of her non-business investments was the new Poor Clare Colettine foundation then living in a council house at Flint. She gathered up John as a newborn and brought him to Mother Cherubina Clare de Morla, our South American/German founding Abbess, to have him blest. They both decided that he should grow up and become a friar. He inherited all his grandmother's independence of spirit, but he fell in with their wishes. They happened to be his own.

In pursuit of her grandson's vocation - Mrs Cheetham's methods were usually indirect - she sent him to Prior Park, an English Catholic public school. He did well there and applied to the Capuchin Fathers. He was ordained priest on the 7th June 1953. His relentless energy got the Welsh travelling Mission and many other projects to the fore.

His first taste of authority - old school - was his appointment as Guardian at Peckham. He later claimed (he was a fund of endless stories against himself) that the day after his arrival there was no dinner. He enquired mildly after its absence. They pointed out to him that he had not ordered dinner. He begged them, henceforth to apply commonsense and reasoned initiative. This was Father Aloysius Ward, and this approach travelled with him through life. In the sanctuary of the sovereign conscience of each life is the power, to discern, to love, to choose and act responsibly. External human authority can encourage, enlighten, suggest, even direct but it cannot surround itself with dependant adult infants. Above all it cannot take away the freedom that God gives to each individual including the freedom to fail.

Life blooms in the dirt of failure. Failure demonstrates our limitations. It is an unsettling sensation, shoving us back down to the earth from which we came. Failure humiliates our overweening pride. It reminds that to err is human, and therefore perfectly legitimate. If you have not failed you are singularly blessed. But don't boast about it! Maybe you have never tried anything of consequence. The danger is you may never know compassion.

In fairly rapid succession, Father Aloysius became Capuchin Provincial and later Definitor General. One way and another he had already picked up a fair amount of Italian, and his years in Rome were a time of interest and growth. He involved himself decisively in the Capuchin stance against apartheid in South Africa, bailed out Mother Imelda and her wonderful (if, seemingly, lawless) Capuchin Nuns and, amongst others, testified to the holiness of Blessed Solanus Casey the old porter of St Bonaventure's in New York. "All useful Capuchins can close doors quietly" and "you can generally tell the spiritual state of a friary by the good order of the bathrooms; too many cobwebs are a bad sign."

He arrived back in Britain to become Bishop of Menevia - the poorest Diocese in England and Wales. He had been appointed coadjutor to Bishop Langton Fox who was dying of a progressive illness. Bishop Langton, though he was a Londoner, had come to love North Wales. When he retired, he asked Bishop Ward if he might stay in the diocese, adding scrupulously, "I wouldn't want to get in your way." Bishop Ward assured him that he wouldn't and the two exchanged Episcopal residences, Bishop Langton whilst he was able, administering Confirmation and saying the Chrism Mass at one end of the Diocese while Bishop Ward tended the other.

A returning native son, Bishop Ward nearly got a hero's welcome; half the clergy could remember him as an altar boy. The most ancient of the Canons had actually corrected him for impertinence; as a reward for this, his new Bishop took him into Bishop's house in Wrexham and nursed him in his old age. Bishop Ward gathered up the scattered crumbs of his Diocese and set out to make a host of it. After a period of illness, he rose up to move virtually every priest at his disposal. In 1982 he invited Mother Francesca to come from London, to rebuild the Hawarden community. Back in 1965 he had given Mother the religious habit at Notting Hill. As all who knew him recall, he did not let a good thing drop out of sight.

Consecrated Life, in its various forms, is a bearing of the Cross. Its members are icons of the chaste, poor, obedient and crucified Lord. It is in the contemplation of the Crucified Lord that all vocations find their inspiration. Contemplatives have a particular place at the foot of Cross with the great contemplatives of the Church: Mary the Mother of Jesus and the Apostle John and Mary Magdalen.

In 1983 Bishop Ward was summoned to Cardiff. In a memorable interview with the BBC he said, "Some people have called me a conservative, some people have told me I was a liberal; I am neither - I am the Pope's man!"

The Cardiff diocese was already deep in the grip of its own difficulties, and unlike Wrexham and Menevia it was not a case of picking up crumbs, but of walking lightly on cracks. Some of the divisions ran deep and the new Archbishop inherited a sheaf of budding abuse cases amongst other disorders.

Life also grows in the dirt of loneliness. Without loneliness, we would never come to know who we are. Loneliness is that enigmatic situation of knowing that we do not belong and of feeling that we absolutely must belong. Loneliness forces us into isolation to discover who we are without others, so we can offer ourselves to others in good faith. If you have never been desperately lonely, you are singularly blessed. Don't boast about it! Maybe you have never met yourself. But if you have known loneliness, then you know the touch of the Cross.

It is a mistake to imagine Wales as a place of Methodist and Presbyterian chapels, those days have passed. The majority religion of Wales both in persons and in practise is Catholicism. Archbishop Ward is in many ways the person to whom the prominence of Catholicism in public life in Wales is due. But it is in the nature of success to provoke a hiss from hell.

The Archbishop never shirked his obligations or neglected to take reasonable precautions regarding those he ordained to the Priesthood, though other more prominent prelates may not have been so responsible. Like most diocesan Bishops he had received charges against priests and having taken reasonable care to protect the innocent he took pastoral care also of the accused. In the Nolan report (art 10.5) it says, "Our belief is that most concerns are raised in good faith and have some foundation. This is well supported by the evidence concerning cases in the Church." Mere belief is not necessary where facts are available. In the COPCA Report for 2005-6, for example, eighty cases were investigated, only six of these had substance and led to legal action and of these, only two involved priests. That is two too many! But it is not, "most concerns"!

Take the dirt of temptation. If virtue were easy, goodness triumphant and life a song, we would never know the stuff we are made of. Temptation tests our mettle, burns off the dross, purifies our intentions, evaluates our priorities - to see once and for all what we really live for. If you have never been seriously tempted, you are singularly graced. But don't dare boast about it - because you may have have missed the whole point of life.

A film critic and historian once called Noel Coward's' Brief Encounter, "the "first popular adult love story". Not so. The first popular adult love story is Gethsemane. Betrayal is part of human adulthood. If you cannot take the betrayal and still love the betrayer you will be a whimpering infant till the day you die. You will never find out what love is. You will never discover the depth at which you have been loved by God in Gethsemane as you turned away from your false kiss. We are all betrayed and betrayers. Some of us suffer publicly; some of us are reserving it for the supreme judgement when the truth will be shouted from the housetops. Some of those who shouted loudest against the Archbishop in the end left the priesthood themselves. Their departures were not loudly heralded. It seemed to lack public interest.

Life grows in the dirt of suffering. Suffering is a peculiarly human experience. Animals have pain but we know hurt. And it is that knowledge which transforms pain into suffering. It is probably the best disguised gift of God to mortals because, patiently endured, suffering engenders that special human quality of gentleness. When we are flayed by the whips of whim and circumstance, of necessity, sin and stupidity, we become tenderised - like steak after a good beating! If you have not grievously suffered, you are singularly blessed. But don't boast about it, maybe you have not engaged life fully. But if you have suffered, then you know the toughness of the Cross.

Archbishop Ward, whose health had been frail since childhood, had a stroke followed by a deep vein thrombosis.

He asked to see the Holy Father before tendering his resignation; he did not resign willingly: he had done nothing for which he needed to resign, he had just become an embarrassment.

If you have experienced the sign of contradiction, then you know also the feel of the nails of the Cross.

The Archbishop went to live with his widowed sister, Margaret, who had also had a stroke. and he began a unique ministry; helping with the pastoral care of those who had been accused of abusing their own children. He became his own prayer. He no longer made attempts to conceal his love for the Mother of God and his dependence on the rosary or his absorption in the word of God and his profound adoration of the living presence of the Lord in the Eucharist.

If Jesus had not been crucified on a wooden cross for our salvation, if He had effected our salvation in some other way, the chief symbol of our Christian faith would still be pieces of wood - not a cross but a table. Both are powerful symbols of our faith; they cannot be optional in our Churches; they cannot be optional in our personal lives; consecrated life and mission to be authentic has to relate to the Cross and the Eucharistic Table.

Our old sisters had prayed for'Jacky' from his childhood. When he was able, he returned to celebrate their jubilees, to say farewell and to conduct their requiems. Sr Pacifica had been one of the old extern sisters who had literally rocked his cradle. At the end she was eight years bedridden. The Archbishop brought a water bed for her. Sr Pacifica said to Sr Amata who was nursing her, "Why did Jacky buy me a waterbed?" Sr Amata replied with her customary simplicity, "Because he loves you, Sister."

Life blooms out of the dirt of the Cross. The cross is the sign of contradiction in our lives. It is that precise point where our horizontal pursuit of pleasure runs into our vertical thrust towards greatness. The cross is always situated in the deepest past of everyone, just where their personal demon and personal dove clash for mastery.

The 8th December 2006 was the Diamond Jubilee of the Archbishop's Religious vows. It was anticipated in October. We had a celebratory mass here with him on the eve and then went with him to the Mass at Pantasaph, where he renewed his vows in the hands of Father Francis; as the Capuchin Provincial found himself unable to attend. 

The heating had broken down and just before the service the organ died. In his introduction to the Mass the Archbishop drew attention to these facts and added dryly, "Welcome to the Franciscan way of penance!" Father Simon had been invited by the Archbishop to preach and he gave a moving homily on the faith of Abraham and the faith of Mary.

On March 19th 2007, the feast of St Joseph, Archbishop Ward went to Rome with Father Gareth Jones who had been his secretary in Cardiff. The Archbishop was a man of mercy, but, having suffered so much from its absence, he was very keen on justice. Whilst in Rome, he visited the stational Churches - and a couple of Roman Congregations in pursuit of right justice for the innocent. He was highly successful. He saw our holy father Pope Benedict XVI, (see photo above) whom he had known from his work with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. They shared their laughter about the perils of old age and he asked the Holy Father to pray for the intentions for which he had come to Rome. He came home on the Friday, with a worsening cold.

He rang our Mother Francesca, to say that he would be coming up to North Wales on Tuesday and would be with us on Wednesday.

Father Gareth Jones arrived at Ystradown early on the Tuesday morning to collect the Archbishop, his "cold" had worsened, it was in fact bronchial pneumonia and Margaret took Father Jones up to the Archbishop's room. The Archbishop greeted him cheerfully and said, "I still want you to go over to Hawarden and see the Sisters". He gave Father Jones a gift for the community, reiterated his desire that Father should still go and see us, adding, "Tell them about Rome!" Then his breathing became laboured, and with Margaret and Father Gareth beside him, he entered into a short agony and died.

"Taking up the Cross and following Christ is our best witness, our loudest sermon, our final word."

The italicised sections are taken from the Archbishops' prophetic Homily to the Association of British Contemplatives. 8 November 1996.


The Cross of the Church


The Cross of the Church, a simple sandstone monolith, shows the crucified and risen Christ between Mary and John. It has been erected in the public garden of the Ty Mam Duw Poor Clare Colettines, in memory of Archbishop John Aloysius Ward OFM Cap. the Cross was blessed after a Mass in memory of the Archbishop on Saturday of Easter Week 29 March 2007

The Cross and the Memorial Garden were donated by Kathleen Moss, Margaret Waugh, Kevin Ward & family, Anne Cheetham & family, Bernard Cheetham and Marianne Hohmann. It is carved in Irish sandstone, was executed by Stephen Blackwell and Company and designed by Ty Mam Duw.

The Cross of the Church stands, rough hewn, like the many monoliths from the earliest times scattered around Wales

The Lord, at once both crucified and risen, looks at us with open eyes. The blood and water flowing from his side symbolize the Sacrament of the Church. His nailed hands conform to the gestures used in the the liturgy of the Greek Catholic rite; the two extended fingers of the right hand stand for the two natures of Christ, the three fingers of the right for the three Divine Persons of the Trinity.

Mary, standing at the right hand of Jesus, personifies the Church. She is the Woman prophesied in Genesis, presented at Cana, and prefigured in the Apocalypse of St John as being in labour with her children in the Church. She holds the chalice for the Church, as the sacraments flow from the side of Christ.

John stands on Christ's left. He holds the scroll of the New Covenant; the gospel of everlasting life. The Lord comes to us in word and sacraments. As Mary stands for the living tradition of the Church, so John stands for the living Word.

The knot motif and the small knot cross in the inscription, take their inspiration from the Great Cross of Nevern. Knot designs, which predate the faith in Wales, have found their way on to many crosses - perhaps because the Lord imposes the beauty of order into our tangled lives or because knot designs have no beginning or end!

Between the knots, the inscription reads AB (Archbishop) Father & Brother + John Aloysius Ward OFM, Cap In Memory. Memory, anamnesis in Church language, is not dead; in prayer it is a living thing. This Cross, with its Memorial Garden, is a place of prayer. It is a place at the heart of the Church - for the Church has her heart in her houses of prayer and contemplation - to which one may bring one's sorrow and joy and unite it with the joy and sorrow of all those who have suffered and yet risen into the glory of the Lord. That is why we have called this Cross the Cross of the Church.

A few months before his election, our Father Benedict XVI spoke of the cross of the Church as he meditated on the 9th Station in the Coliseum.

"Should we not also think of how much Christ suffers in his own Church? How often is his Word twisted and misused! and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to him! It is certainly the greatest suffering endured by the Redeemer; it pierces his heart... But you (Lord) will rise again. You stood up, you arose and you can also raise us up. Save and sanctify your Church. Save and sanctify us all."

This was the cross that our Father and Brother carried. It is far harder than being misunderstood or slandered in the public arena. There is an inscription that is not carved on this piece of stone; it was written on the Archbishop's heart: Dilexit Ecclesiam: he loved the Church.