Wilfrid Philip Ward (1856-1916) was one of nine children of Catholic convert parents William George Ward (1812-1882) and Frances M Wingfield (?1816-1898). William George Ward was a prominent Ultramontane theologian and philosopher.
Ward attended Downside College for a year followed by St Edmund's College. He gained a B.A. degree from London University and later attended the Catholic University College at Kensington founded by Henry Edward Manning (1808-1892). In 1877 Ward decided to become a priest and went to Rome to study at the Collegio Inglese, affiliated to the Gregorian University. In 1878 he returned to Britain to study at Ushaw College near Durham where he became the Choir Master and finally gave up the priesthood just before he was to be ordained in 1881. Ward then joined the Inner Temple in London to study to become a barrister but lost heart and entered on an ad hoc career as a writer on religious and philosophical topics. In 1885 and 1890 he lectured on philosophy at Ushaw College.
In 1887 Ward married Josephine Mary Hope-Scott (1864-1932). Their early married life was spent on the Isle of Wight in close company with the Tennysons and the Huxleys.
Ward's career as a biographer began when he decided to write a biography of his father. William George Ward and the Oxford Movement (London, 1889) proved to be more popular that Ward could have imagined. The second volume, William George Ward and the Catholic Revival (London, 1893) was also popular and prompted Herbert Cardinal Vaughan (1832-1903) to invite Ward to write the biography of Nicholas Patrick Stephen Cardinal Wiseman (1802-1865). Ward's The Life and Times of Cardinal Wiseman (London, 1897) immediately went into several editions and established Ward's reputation as an expert in the genre, subject and period.
Ward was drawn in to mediate between Manning's executors and Edmund Sheridan Purcell (1826-1899) over the controversial biography of the Cardinal, published in 1896. In the summer of 1888 Ward was invited to join the Commission directrice of the 'Catholic International Scientific Congress' held in Paris. In 1890 Ward was appointed examiner in Mental and Moral Philosophy to the Royal University of Ireland. In 1895 he joined the Catholic Universities Board to discuss whether Catholics should attend Oxbridge and was influential in securing the right of Catholics to attend the National Universities.
Following the publication of Arthur James Balfour's (1848-1930) Foundations of Belief (1895), Ward established the Synthetic Society which aimed to discuss the foundations of belief with a view to constructing a working philosophy of religious belief and to promote dialogue between Catholics, Anglicans and Non-Conformists. The Society attracted many prominent members from the clergy, the universities and parliament only finally dissolving in 1908.
Towards the end of the nineteenth century Ward became involved with the Reunion Controversy, which was bound up with the question of the validity of Anglican Orders. In 1901 Ward was appointed as a commissioner to the Royal Commission on University Education in Ireland, which was to inquire into the condition of higher education in Ireland outside Trinity College Dublin and to recommend any reforms necessary. Ward was influential in the writing of the report which was completed in 1903 and signed by all the commissioners except one. However the report was not acted upon, no Irish Education Act was forthcoming.
In 1904 Ward was elected the first chairman of the 'Westminster Catholic Dining Society' which consisted of Catholic ladies and gentlemen who dined together about eight times a year. The Ward collection includes a minute book from the Society and there are some references to the Society within Ward's general correspondence.
In 1905 negotiations began and in 1906 Ward was named as editor of the Dublin Review, a position his father had previously held. Ward's interest in diverse topics contributed to its success. Articles on science, literature and politics appeared alongside those on philosophy and theology. Circulation increased, but Ward's editorship was controversial, coinciding with the height of Modernist fervour. In 1915 Ward was ousted as editor; falling circulation figures being named as the cause.
In July 1905 Ward was named as the official biographer of John Henry Newman. When Newman had died in 1890 it had generally been expected that Ward would be appointed as biographer but William Paine Neville (1824-1905), Newman's literary executor, had been very hesitant about a biography of Newman's life as a Catholic. Ward described his Life of Cardinal Newman as his 'magnum opus' and he certainly had more trouble over it than any of his previous biographies. When it was finally published in 1912, Ward received letters of congratulation and approval from many quarters and especially from the Oratorian Fathers.
Ward made two lecture trips to the USA, the first in 1913-1914 and the second in 1915. Following the outbreak of World War I Ward made strenuous efforts to justify Britain's part in the war. He died in April 1916 following a painful illness and operation which, for a time, had given hope of an invalid life. Much of Ward's correspondence from this period is dictated, owing to the constant pain he suffered, and demonstrates the depth of his faith. His friendship with Friedrich Von Hgel (1852-1925) was a particular comfort to Ward during these last months.
Throughout his career Ward associated and corresponded with the great men of his day on a variety of subjects. The Modernist thinkers George Tyrrell (1861-1909), Henri Bremond (1865-1933) and Von Hgel are amongst Ward's correspondents as are Bishops, Archbishops, Lords, Earls and Dukes. Correspondence with his friends Arthur James Balfour and George Wyndham (1863-1913) often contains comment on the current political situation in Parliament, Ireland and the country at large.