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Loreto Central & Irish Province Archives

We are a worldwide group of IBVM (Loreto) women inspired by the radical vision of our foundress, Mary Ward, whose legacy from the 17th century encourages us to passionately embody God’s love by:

  • standing with those on the margins of society
  • challenging unjust structures
  • advocating for all especially women and children
  • whole-hearted engagement in education and other ministries
  • discerning the signs of the times by listening to the Spirit
  • seeking to live our charism of freedom, justice, truth, sincerity and joy
  • working in collaboration with others to promote the dignity of all

To ask the question ‘Who are you?’ is to ask something fundamental about anyone’s identity.

In the Scriptures, it is a question that recurs and, inevitably, there are as many answers as there are people. It is a question that does not just ask our name but searches out the more profound reason for our very being on this earth, the rationale for our existence, our modus operandi.

In response to the locus of that question ‘Who are we?’ we are first and foremost, a diverse group of women of all ages, shapes and sizes, who have responded to God’s call to intimacy with him as expressed in our vowed lives as religious in the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary/Loreto.

Standing with those on the margins of society

We are known more formally, internationally, as IBVM – Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, – and more informally as the Loreto Branch.

Up to relatively recently, the IBVM comprised three branches: the North American Branch, founded in the 1840s in USA and Canada; the Roman Branch, descendants of the original group of followers descended from Mary Ward who have members in Germany, Ukraine, Siberia, Brazil, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Romania, Israel, and other areas of the world; the Irish Branch, consisting of foundations of the IBVM made from Ireland.

Traditionally, the name Loreto emerged from foundations of the Institute which were made from Ireland. This was initiated by the founder of the Irish Branch of IBVM, Dublin woman Teresa Ball in the 19thcentury.

Mother Frances Teresa Ball, IBVM, who brought the Institute to Ireland in the early 19th century from the Bar Convent York

Now, there are two branches remaining:  the IBVM Loreto Branch, which takes in USA and Canada and all members of the former Irish Branch, and the Congregatio Jesu (Congregation of Jesus), the former Roman Branch of IBVM.

Our lives are governed by our commitment to God grounded in a spirituality which is based on finding God in all the various events of our lives, no matter how wonderful or horrendous that might be at times.

We try to live our particular charism, or the unique gift given to the Church by our founder, which is epitomised in the following: freedom, justice, sincerity and joy. We are an apostolic group who are involved in active ministries and we do not follow the monastic way of life.

Central to who we are is the unity of mind and hearts, which is not bound by physical or geographical location, big communities or small communities, living together or living alone; where one of our members is, we as Loreto are there.

We were founded by an extraordinary Yorkshire woman, Mary Ward, in the 17th century. There are not many religious congregations that can say their founder was imprisoned and was labelled a ‘heretic, schismatic and rebel of Holy Church’; but such is ours!

Mary Ward and her first members came together in 1609

Mary Ward’s ideas were so radical that they were practically unbearable to the Church of the time because they challenged the status quo.

She wanted women religious to be out of their cloisters, in the marketplaces, in the streets, engaged with people, not separate from them hidden behind their high monastery walls.

She wanted women to be governed by women which, in those days, was a significant challenge to the hierarchical male-dominated church.

Such was the opposition to her radical ideals that the Institute was suppressed by a Papal Bull which was promulgated by Pope Urban VIII, in 1631. However, a small group of courageous women continued to keep the embers of the flame alive.

For over three hundred years, Mary Ward was never allowed to be acknowledged as the founder. This year – 2009 – we are celebrating, in joy and hope, the 400th anniversary of her first foundation in 1609.