Mary Ward (1585-1645)

The Sisters known as the Loreto Sisters belong to the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (IBVM) founded in 1609 by a twenty-four-year-old Yorkshire woman, Mary Ward.

Because of religious persecution in England, Catholics from that country had to seek education in Continental Europe.

Mary Ward and her first companions established their first school at St Omer (now in France) in a house, which is still there, although it is now a private residence.

In St Omer, Mary Ward and her group became known as the 'English Ladies' - a title still used for members of the CJ sisters (formerly IBVM) in Germany and in other countries in Europe.

Despite enormous difficulties, Mary Ward set up houses and schools in Bavaria, Austria and Italy in a relatively short time. She moved between the countries mainly on foot. A pair of her rough shoes, and her pilgrim's hat can still be seen in one of the CJ convents in Altötting in Germany.

Mary Ward's pilgrim hat and shoes

Many of Mary Ward's ideas about religious life and about the work to be done by women were so novel in the early 17th century that in 1631 her Institute was suppressed.

Mary Ward died in Yorkshire in 1645. In 1650 her sisters had to flee the country again and seek safety in Paris.

Eventually in 1677 the Sisters were able to return to York and open a school in the city.

Mary Ward was joined by the first members of the Institute in 1609