Loretto Sisters (Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary)

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A community of religious women, without enclosure, founded by Mother Mary ward for the instruction of youth (IBVM, Official Catholic Directory #2370). They are popularly known as Dami Inglesi, Englischen Fräulein, Loretto sisters, etc., in the countries where they established themselves. In 1609, Mary Ward and seven companions opened a boarding school for English Catholic refugees in St. Omer, Flanders, where they also conducted a free day school. A house was founded in London (1611), and soon the institute spread to Bavaria and Italy. They adopted the rule of the Society of Jesus and received provisional approval from Paul V. Opposition to this novel form of religious life grew and was climaxed by the bull of suppression of Urban VIII in 1631. Soon after, however, Mary Ward was encouraged by Pope Urban himself to open schools in Rome. The foundress then returned to England to encourage her sisters there; she died in York in 1645.

After Mary Ward's death, Mary Poyntz transferred both religious and pupils from York to Paris. Twenty years later Frances bedingfeld, a companion of Mother Ward, returned to England and in 1686 opened the Micklegate Bar Convent, York, the first convent founded in England after the Reformation. In 1703 Clement XI granted full approval to the rule. Meanwhile the houses in Germany and Austria had multiplied. The Paradeiser Haus, Munich, having remained open during the suppression by special permission of Urban VIII, was moved to Rome. St. Pölten (1706) became the Austrian generalate, and Mainz, Germany, became an independent motherhouse in 1809. Frances ball entered the York community in 1814, and in 1821 she became foundress of a house of the same order in Dublin, Ireland. Foundations in Navan and Meath, Ireland (1833), and Australia (1874) were made from Rathfarnham, Dublin. Teresa dease established the first North American foundation in Toronto, Canada (1847). In the United States, a convent was opened in Joliet, Ill., in 1880. Pius X in 1909 reinstated Mary Ward to full honor as foundress. Two years later, York and Munich united at Rome, and after World War II they were joined by the St. Pölten and Mainz generalates.

The institute's educational work extends from primary school to university level, in catechetics, adult education, youth ministries, retreats, and pastoral outreach. Despite differences in history and variations in habit and title, there is an essential unity and strength among the many branches of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary stemming from its constitutions and the spirit of its foundress.

The general motherhouse in North America is in Toronto, Canada. The U.S. regional headquarters is in Wheaton, IL.

Bibliography: Life and Letters of Mother Teresa Dease, by a member of the community (St. Louis 1916).

[m. f. madigan/eds.]