Established in 2008 in South Sudan, Loreto Rumbek Primary and Secondary School educates girls from ages 5 to 20.

History of Loreto

Founded by the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Loreto Rumbek School, is one of many Loreto schools and colleges worldwide to have been founded by the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (IBVM).

IBVM itself was founded in 1609 by an Englishwoman Mary Ward (1585 – 1645); a Catholic from Yorkshire, whose aim it was to provide girls with an education comparable to that offered to boys at a time when there was almost no education for women.

She was a vigorous, determined woman who never gave up despite frequent opposition to her plans which were so far ahead of their time.

Her words -

"I hope in God it will be seen, that women in time to come, will do much"

...gives us a glimpse of her vision for the future.

About Mary Ward

Mary Ward was born in Yorkshire, England in 1585 at a time of severe persecution of Catholics. Despite the sufferings, loss of property and even death of dear ones, many of her friends, relatives, and acquaintances remained faithful to their religion. Brought up in such an atmosphere of heroism and self-sacrifice, Mary grew up to be a woman of deep faith, steely determination and unswerving loyalty to the Church.

At the age of 15 she decided to be ‘wholly God’s’ but it was only when she reached the age of 21 that she was allowed to follow her dream of becoming a religious.

In 1606 she crossed the English Channel and went to St. Omer (Belgium) where she joined a Poor Clare’s Convent as a lay sister only to discover later that she was not to be a Poor Clare. She left the Convent; after a few more years of search and struggle she returned to England where she spent her time visiting lapsed Catholics and prisoners, helping and supporting priests and arranging for them to administer the sacraments.

One day in 1609 God showed her clearly that she was to do something else ‘more to the glory of God’ the exact nature of which still remained unclear to her.

Attracted by her warm and charming personality and inspired by her heroic spirit and obvious love for the Lord, several young women of her circle of friends, relatives and acquaintances joined her.

Together they went to the Continent where Mary opened a number of schools for children. Seeing the success and apostolic impact of her work, Church and Civil authorities invited her to open schools in their countries. Soon Mary began to think of establishing a religious order. But women religious of the time had to observe strict enclosure, a rule that limited their activities to little more than prayer and household chores.

Mary Ward was directed by God through a series of mystical experiences to found an Order modelled on the pattern of the Society of Jesus/Jesuits. She wanted her Congregation to be directly under the Pope and be free from enclosure, the obligation of the choir and the wearing of religious habit.

These were novel ideas and not acceptable to the church and Mary’s initiatives brought in a storm of protests from all sides because her attempt to begin an apostolic Order for women went against the norms and practices of the time.

But Mary, realizing the great opportunities open to women religious in defending and protecting Faith, refused to bow down to the pressures. As a result she had to suffer much and was branded as a heretic and imprisoned and her Congregation suppressed.

Only a few faithful’s remained loyal to her vision. Despite all attempts to discredit her and destroy her work, she remained firm, utterly convinced of her mission. Though later she was exonerated from all charges of heresy and given permission to live with her companions in Rome, the ban forbidding her foundation was not revoked.

Despite the many hurdles in the way of obtaining the approbation of her Institute, Mary placed her trust in the Lord as she says, “What is not done in one year can be done in another. We must wait for God Almighty’s leisure, for we must follow, not go before Him.”

The years of waiting and uncertainty took its toll on Mary’s health. In 1640 she returned to England where a civil war was raging. She and her companions sought refuge in Heworth, a village outside York. There she spent the last months of her life and on 30th January 1645 she breathed her last, pronouncing the name of Jesus three times.

Teresa Ball

Frances Ball, foundress of the Irish Branch of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, was born on 9 January, 1794, into a wealthy Dublin family.

Frances was a daughter of John Ball and Mabel Clare Bennet. At the age of nine years, she was sent to school at the Bar Convent, York, England, conducted by the English Ladies of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She remained there until the death of her father in 1808 and then spent some time with her mother at home.

In 1814, Frances Ball returned to York and was received into the Bar Convent Novitiate at the request of Dr Daniel Murray, the Archbishop of Dublin, to be trained as a religious of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary so that she could make a foundation of the order in Ireland.

There she received her religious training and made her profession in 1816, taking the name of Mary Teresa. In 1821 at the request of Dr Murray, she returned to Dublin with two novices to establish a convent and school there.

In 1822 she opened the first house of the Institute in Ireland, in Rathfarnham House, four miles from Dublin. She called it “Loretto House”, after the shrine in Italy where Mary Ward used to pray. The “Loretto” name was to be used for all the subsequent foundations that came from Ireland, and which resulted in the sisters of the Irish Branch of the IBVM being popularly known as “Loreto Sisters” (the spelling of which changed at the end of the nineteenth century).

Mother Teresa was a woman of deep spirituality and significant administrative ability. Her energies were devoted to the establishment of many convent schools in Ireland and also in India (1842), Mauritius (1844), Gibraltar (1845), Canada (1847) and England (1851). She died at Loreto, Dalkey, on May 19th 1861.

Her calling
Frances returned home to Dublin at the age of sixteen.  She was youthful, talented, had a striking presence and personality, and was much sought after by eligible young men.  At the same time, she had always been a devout young woman and realised that she wanted to devote her life to God as a nun. 

Her biography tells the story thus; Like her two sisters before her, Frances would expected to make an admirable wife for the son and heir of some rich Catholic Dublin merchant family. 

At her debutante ball, a fashionable and lively occasion, she realised that she did not belong in the ballroom or in the life it represented.  In the midst of the music and wine and swirling dancers she knew with total certainty the direction of her future life.  God was calling her to dedicate her life completely to his service.  He wanted her to be a nun. 

The idea took complete possession of her.  No other course was possible. With the support of the Bishop of Dublin, who hoped that she would set up an IBVM community in Dublin, Frances returned to York to enter The Bar Convent, where she took the religious name of Teresa.

Mother Teresa Ball returned to Dublin in 1823 to start her work of setting up an Irish branch of the Institute, which she called Loreto sisters after the shrine at Loreto in Italy where Mary Ward used to pray.

Her character
A notable feature of Teresa Ball’s character was her unshakeable determination to carry out to the end any work she undertook.  She was a gracious and imposing figure, patrician, aristocratic, even a little awe-inspiring, especially to the younger sisters. 

She was described as possessing modesty, gentleness, dignity, elegance and refinement, but her reserved manner led many to misunderstand her and consider her lacking in warmth. 

Like Mary Ward, Teresa Ball was no stranger to controversy.  She encountered prejudice and bigotry from many people in Ireland, difficulties with some bishops and priests, as well as with her own religious sisters.  However, she often gave the impression of sailing through life like a ship under full sail, serene and untroubled, without any of the trials that lesser mortals had to face. 

Her natural reserve was allied with a natural authority:  she was only eighteen years old when told by Archbishop Murray that she was to be the head of a new religious congregation, and twenty-seven when she returned to Ireland as superior of the Irish branch of the IBVM.

Loreto schools
It has never been fully explained why Mother Teresa decided to name her convent Loreto House, or rather, to use her own spelling, Loretto House, an error which remained uncorrected for many years. 

The town of Loreto in Italy holds a famous relic, an old house which is said to be the house where the Holy Family lived in Nazareth.  The Holy House of Loreto became one of the great pilgrimage centres of mediaeval Italy and devotion to Our Lady of Loreto was commended by many popes and saints.  The devotion of Mary Ward to the shrine at Loreto is well-documented.

The first of many Loreto schools began at Rathfarnham Abbey in Dublin.  For almost forty years after bringing the IBVM to Ireland Teresa Ball established a wide network of convents and schools across Ireland, as well as in India, Mauritius and Canada.  She died in 1861 after a long and painful illness.