Our Story

The Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary was founded by an Englishwoman Mary Ward in 1609. Her dream was to begin a new kind of community of women religious - an independent self-governing congregation patterned after that of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), free of the confines of the cloister, and responding to the urgent needs of her time.

Mary Ward, founder of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (far right), is shown with her first companions. - Detail from the Painted Life No. 22Mary Ward, founder of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (far right), is shown with her first companions. - Detail from the Painted Life No. 22Though Mary Ward was imprisoned by the Inquisition and initially condemned by the Church, miraculously her charism lives on in the members of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary throughout the world.

Mary Ward’s Institute was brought to Ireland in 1821 by Frances Teresa Ball, who established an independent foundation in Dublin, since it was impossible, due to international events, to maintain ties with either England or Europe. The sisters became known in Ireland as Loret(t)o Sisters. In true Irish missionary style, Teresa sent her Loreto companions to far-flung corners of the earth, to India, to Mauritius, to Gibraltar and then to North America.

Mary Wright IBVM, General Leader of the Irish Branch and Maria Bierer, General Leader of the North American Branch, sign the Decree of Re-union in 2003.Mary Wright IBVM, General Leader of the Irish Branch and Maria Bierer, General Leader of the North American Branch, sign the Decree of Re-union in 2003.On September 16, 1847, five young women from Ireland, members of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, landed at Cooper’s Wharf in Toronto, to begin the work of educating the children of the many Irish immigrants who had come to Canada. In spite of great hardships and limited resources, this small foundation from Rathfarnham, Ireland, survived and began to grow, eventually spreading to the United States. By 1881 the long distance from Ireland and difficulties in communication with a distant Motherhouse warranted that the Institute in North America become an independent branch of the Institute.

With a common vision and spirit, and with the advent of technology to promote rapid communication, the sisters of the original “Irish” branch and those of the “North American” branch of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary were reunited in September, 2003, and now form one Loreto (Loretto) branch of Mary Ward’s Institute, with missions in every continent.

“It pleased God to be served by this most humble company.”
- Mary Ward