To understand the story of all Australian Loreto schools, it is necessary to return to the beginnings of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (IBVM) founded by Mary Ward in 1609 at St Omer in Belgium. Mary Ward, born in 1585 in Yorkshire, grew up in times of religious persecution in England. Her deep faith in God inspired her to pioneer a new type of religious life for women, one that would allow them the freedom to respond to any apostolic need, rather than operate within the confines of enclosure, as was the norm for women religious of the time. Her chief concern was the ‘care of the faith’ through the education of girls, and her schools were modelled on those of the Jesuits.

Mary Ward International Australia (MWIA) is a registered charity established by the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (IBVM) to address the needs of the most disadvantaged in Australia and developing countries around the world.

For more details please visit the Mary Ward International website.

Grounded in Ignatian spirituality

Mary Ward believed in the capacity of women as well as men to find God in the ordinary experience of human life. In her own time, it seemed that she fought a losing battle, culminating in the suppression of the Institute, her own imprisonment and the closing of the schools.

From early and difficult beginnings in Flanders, Bavaria and England, Mary Ward’s Institute spread, during the next four centuries, over five continents. Nearly 400 years later, the spirit of Mary Ward continues to inspire us and Loreto schools are part of an international network of friendship, education and shared values, imbued with the Mary Ward tradition and determination of women ‘to do much’ with their lives.

An international family of schools

Present Loreto schools belong to an international family of Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (IBVM) schools throughout the world.

Loreto in Australia is part of the Irish Generalate founded in Dublin in 1821 by Frances Ball, who received her religious formation as an IBVM sister at the Bar Convent in York. The first house in Ireland, located at Rathfarnham, was called Loreto, a name subsequently given to foundations from Ireland and hence the sisters of the Irish Branch are commonly known as Loreto sisters.

The IBVM was introduced into Australia in 1875 in response to a request from Bishop O’Connor of Ballarat who had known the sisters in Ireland. Mother Gonzaga Barry, IBVM led the small group to Australia and set up the first convent and school Loreto Abbey, Mary’s Mount at Ballarat.

Mother Gonzaga Barry’s influence on primary, secondary and tertiary education in Australia was both lively and profound. She established schools across the country which provided a wide range of students with a balanced, happy yet challenging education that prepared them to exert a lasting influence on the emerging nation. Moreover, her initiatives to improve the quality of teacher training and in-service went far beyond Loreto.

Now the Loreto Sisters are active across Australia and in every continent, collaborating with others to bring the Gospels to life in the church and in society. Education is seen as a vital part of this endeavour, a way of promoting full human growth and freedom. Find out more about the work of the Loreto Sisters at the Loreto Australia website.

Friends of Loreto should pay particular attention to the latest news provided for the extended Loreto community and schools, on the News Updates section of the Loreto Australia site.

Loreto Sisters in Australia

The Institute spread rapidly throughout mainland Australia and in 1892 the first Loreto day and boarding school in Sydney was opened in Randwick.

In 1897 a separate boarding school was established at Normanhurst, and in 1901 the day school was transferred to Milsons Point, to a house called Kunimbla in Fitzroy Street. A year later, increasing numbers necessitated the move to Fern Hill, a house in Upper Pitt Street, and in December 1907, the present site in Carabella Street was purchased. In 1908 the school opened on 3 February in Elamang.