THE P RTAL August 2011 Mary Sumner by Keith Robinson Page 7 Anglican Luminary The name of Mary Sumner is well enough known, but her influence in both the Anglican and Catholic communions may be less appreciated. Mary Heywood was born into a fairly well to do family in Swinton, Manchester on the very last day of 1828, the third of three children. Her father was a banker and amateur historian, and her mother a deeply pious woman. In 1832 the family purchased the Hope End estate at Colwall in Herefordshire, where Mrs Heywood held supportive meetings for young mothers in the parish. The Heywood children were educated at home. Mary herself proved a capable child, able to speak three foreign languages, and being musically gifted as well. Infant mortality, so much more frequent then than now, struck the household when Mary’s six week old brother died, and the family’s experience of this tragedy may well have sown a seed for her later work. education in Rome It was while completing her education in Rome that Mary met her future husband, George Sumner, a son of the then Bishop of Winchester, and eighteen months after George’s ordination into the Church of England ministry, the couple were married in St James’s parish church, Colwall on the 26 July 1848. They subsequently had three children of their own. vocation to motherhood In 1851 George was presented to the living of Old Alresford in his father’s diocese of Winchester. As well as fulfilling her role as mother to their children, Mary did everything she could to support her husband’s ministry in the parish. She was able to draw on her musical gifts – especially singing – and she set up regular Bible Classes. But it was perhaps the birth of a child to her own eldest daughter in 1876, that led her to call together all the mothers of the parish, regardl ess of their social class, to see how best they could support one another in prayer, by encouragement and practical support. Mary wanted to affirm the vocation to motherhood as perhaps the highest of all vocations. Invited to address a Church Congress in Portsmouth on this very subject, she made the case for motherhood being the most important profession. Her words carried great authority, and many women went back to their own parishes to establish similar groups. In this way the “Mothers’ Union” became a Winchester Diocesan organisation. The idea spread quickly throughout England, so that by 1892 there were 60,000 members in 28 dioceses. the Mothers’ Union In 1896 the Central Council was formed with Mary herself as its president, and the following year (the year of her jubilee) Queen Victoria became Patron. Branches began to be set up throughout the Empire, and today, the Mothers’ Union claims four million members worldwide. It was a major impetus and model for the founding of the Union of Catholic Mothers in 1913. Members support one another throughout the world in a well- organised wave of intercessory prayer and through many different kinds of practical support for children and family life. Mary died, aged 92, on the 9 August 1921, and was buried with her husband in the grounds of Winchester Cathedral. She is justifiably commemorated on 9th August in many Anglican calendars.