The Life of Mary Ward (1585 - 1645)

Mary Ward home

In 1609, Mary Ward founded one of the first groups of active religious women in the Church, the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, known in Ireland and throughout the world as Loreto Sisters.

Mary, an English woman was born in Yorkshire in 1585. She lived in an age of religious intolerance. Her parents were devout Catholics at a time when Catholics were being persecuted for their faith, among them, many of her own relations, including her grandmother.

Cherish God’s vocation in you, let it be constant, efficacious and loving".

Mary Ward

A Calling and her first school

Inspired by the deep faith of her family, Mary felt called to follow Christ in religious life.

She joined a Poor Clare Community in St. Omer in Northern France. However, it quickly became apparent that Mary felt called to follow Christ in a ‘new way’, free from religious enclosure.

Consequently, she returned to London and worked tirelessly caring for the sick, visiting prisoners and supporting those struggling with their faith.

A number of women joined her, ready to embark on a new adventure, to follow Christ and spread the message of the Gospel. Towards the end of 1609, Mary and six companions left London for St. Omer and opened the first school.

In 1611 it became clear to her that God wanted her to ‘take the same as the Society’, which meant her rule and way of life for her members was to be based on the apostolic life of the Jesuits.

She wished her members to be dressed in the ordinary clothes of the time, not to be confined by monastic enclosure, to be self-governing without any interference from male congregations or bishops.

While the Pope expressed interest in the work of Mary and her companions, which included opening schools in some European countries, he was prevented by the Church law of the time from giving his approval for this new way of religious life.

Legacy of Mary Ward

However, despite the success of the schools and local support for their work, Pope Urban V111 signed a Bull of Suppression condemning Mary as a heretic. She was imprisoned in Munich, the schools were closed and her companions were dispersed.

When Mary was released from prison, she and a few faithful companions returned to Yorkshire where she died in 1645.

Despite the suppression, some of Mary’s companions continued to live together as lay communities. These companions kept the vision alive and continued to petition for approval of Mary’s dream but it was not until 1909, three hundred years after she began her ‘new way’ of religious life, that Pope Pius X allowed Mary Ward to be named as Foundress of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Her followers can be found today in several countries in varied ministries.

blue motif


Teresa Ball Loreto Order Founder in Ireland

Loreto Archives, Dublin

The Beginning is Everything

This exhibition tracks the 200 year history of Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Ireland and beyond.

This exhibition includes an introduction to Mary Ward, who founded IBVM in England in 1609 and a brief history of the Bar Convent in York. The biography of M. Teresa Ball is then explored from her early life and her decision to enter religious life to her death in 1861.

The development of IBVM (Loreto) in Ireland from the first foundation, Loreto Abbey, Rathfarnham in 1822 and its expansion around Ireland and worldwide, is then surveyed. Finally, the obstacles and difficulties of the past and the future of IBVM are looked at.