Petre was born in Margaretting, Essex, England to an old recusant family on her father's side; her mother was a convert. She was a granddaughter of the thirteenth Baron Petre and the fourth Earl of Wicklow. She was educated privately, including for a year in Rome to study scholasticism. In 1890 she joined the Daughters of the Heart of Mary, a religious order that allowed members to live in their own homes and wear street clothing instead of habits. In 1896, she was named a local superior and was named provincial in 1900.
In 1900 she began a friendship with the Jesuit priest George Tyrrell, who introduced her to a circle of questioning Catholic intellectuals such as Alfred Loisy, Henri Bremond and Friedrich von Hügel. When Tyrrell was expelled from the Jesuits in 1906, Petre opened her house to him and gave him a stipend.
In 1907, when Petre's book Catholicism and Independence: Being Studies in Spiritual Liberty was published, Petre was refused permission to renew her vows in the Daughters of the Heart of Mary. Peter Amigo, the then-Bishop of Southwark, refused Petre the sacraments in his diocese shortly thereafter. She dealt with this by worshipping regularly in another diocese .
Petre spent the remainder of her life writing books and essays about various topics, such as a biography of her ancestor, the ninth Baron Petre; a study of Modernism; an account of Tyrrell and von Hügel's friendship, as well as a posthumously published study of Loisy. Her autobiography My Way of Faith was published in 1937. She died in London at the age of 79.
- Crews, Clyde F., English Catholic Modernism: Maude Petre's Way of Faith, University of Notre Dame Press, 1984. ISBN 0-268-00912-0
- Leonard, Ellen. Unresting Transformation: The Theology and Spirituality of Maude Petre, Lanham, Maryland:University Press of America, 1991. ISBN 0-8191-8220-6
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