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.
Though 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. She had established an independent foundation in Dublin since international events made it impossible 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.
On September 16, 1847, five Loretto sisters from Ireland, including Rev. Mother Teresa Dease (Foundress), landed at Cooper’s Wharf in Toronto. They began 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 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.
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 of 2003. They now form one Loreto (Loretto) branch of Mary Ward’s Institute, with missions in every continent.