Our History

Mary Ward and the founding of the Institute

Mary Ward by Annie Bromham IBVM
Mary Ward
by Annie Bromham IBVM

The foundress of the Loreto Sisters was Mary Ward, a Yorkshire woman, born in 1585 at a time when Catholics were suffering persecution under the English Penal Laws.

Mary Ward was a woman of great courage, a quality she would need throughout her life. She was certain that God was calling her to religious life but this call also involved a new vision which would see religious sisters living without enclosure and free to work wherever the need was greatest. Her sisters were to wear the dress of the time and not a religious habit.

Mary Ward’s foundation came to be called the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She chose the Constitutions of St Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits, as the way of life which she and her sisters would follow. Their aim would be to give glory to God through their work of service in the church through education and other ministries.

Soon Mary Ward had many companions. Her Institute flourished in Europe, but her prophetic vision proved to be too radical for church authorities. The Institute was suppressed in 1631 and Mary was imprisoned by the church as a heretic. She was later acquitted of heresy although official approval of her Institute was not granted until 1877. By this time her Institute had grown significantly.

The IBVM in Ireland

In 1821, Teresa Ball, a young Dublin woman, founded the Institute in Ireland, setting up her first of many convents worldwide in Rathfarnham and calling it ‘Loreto’, from which the Irish Branch of the Institute took its name. Loreto has spread to all five continents and Loreto Sisters live their lives out of Mary Ward’s vision of justice, freedom and sincerity and referring all things to God.

Other foundations from Ireland:

India 1841
Mauritius 1845
Gibraltar 1845
Toronto 1847
Manchester 1851
Spain 1851

First foundation in England

In 1851, Loreto made its first foundation in England. Margaret Ellis, Sr.Alphonsa, and her companions began their work of educating Catholic children in Manchester. Loreto Sisters are currently working in many parts of England as well as in Scotland and Wales. They are involved in varied ministries, educational and pastoral, in school, parish, retreat centre, hospital and prison, living out the same vision of finding God in the Ordinary everyday moments of life.  Read more . . .

And so the story of Loreto and Mary Ward’s Institute goes on.