The IBVMs in Ireland

Mother Frances Teresa Ball

The lack of formal schools in Ireland acceptable to Catholics in the 17th and for most of the 18th centuries led many Catholic families, who could afford to do so, to send their children abroad to be educated.

A silk merchant in Dublin, John Ball and his wife had been happy to send their eldest daughter to the new Ursuline school in Cork. However, the Rebellion of 1798 and its aftermath made travel between Dublin and Cork very dangerous.

The Ball family decided that their younger daughters Anna Maria, Isabella and Frances, and their son Nicholas, should go to school in England. The girls were sent to the IBVM convent in York.

Frances Ball finished her education in York in 1808 and returned to Dublin. She confided to Fr Daniel Murray, a family friend, that she wanted to become a Religious as soon as she could get her parents' consent.

In 1809, Fr Murray was ordained Coadjutor Bishop of Dublin. He was to become one of the greatest Archbishops the Dublin Diocese has ever had, and was instrumental in the foundation of the Irish Sisters of Charity and of the Sisters of Mercy, the re-organisation of Maynooth College, the foundation of All Hallows College, the introduction to Ireland of the Society of St Vincent de Paul, the building of many Churches including the Pro-Cathedral and Westland Row.

Archbishop Murray realised that if the Catholic Church was to be revived after the persecution and suppression of the penal days, it was essential to provide Catholic education for the people. He invited the CJ Sisters at York to establish a school in Dublin but they were not in a position to send sisters at that time.

It was arranged that Frances Ball would enter the IBVM in York and that she would return to Dublin in due course to set up the first IBVM house in Ireland. Frances Ball now became known as Mother Teresa Ball.

In 1821, when Mother Teresa was ready to return to Dublin, Dr Murray bought Rathfarnham House with forty acres of land. The house had been built in 1725 and had been owned by the Palliser and Grierson families.

Loreto Abbey Rathfarnham

Before the house could be used by the IBVM sisters, a number of structural repairs had to be carried out. Mother Teresa and two companions eventually moved to Rathfarnham House on November 4, 1822.

Because there were three of them in Rathfarnham House that first evening, Mother Teresa decided to call the house 'Loreto' after the village in Italy to which the Nazareth house of the Holy Family was said to have been miraculously transported.

The name 'Loreto' had been used by all houses founded from Rathfarnham over the years since that November evening. Eventually, the Sisters become known as 'Loreto Sisters', although their official title remains the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

A school for girls was established in the newly named 'Loreto House' at Rathfarnham. Although the Relief Acts of 1782 and 1792 allowed schools for Catholics in Ireland, those conducting the schools still had to get a licence to do so from the local Church of Ireland Minister or Bishop.

The licence obtained by Mother Teresa Ball from Henry McClean and Thomas Jones on 16 June 1823, as well as copies of the required Oath of Allegiance to the King taken by Mother Teresa on 6 May 1822, are preserved in the Loreto Archives.

The National School system as we know it to day was introduced by the Parliament in 1831 and took some years to become established. In advance of this development, Mother Teresa started what were called 'Poor Schools' everywhere she set up a house.

By degrees, a number of young Irish women joined Mother Teresa and became members of the IBVM. Unfortunately, consumption claimed the lives of many of these first sisters while they were still young.

The cemetery at Abbey House, Rathfarnham bears witness to the great losses of those early years of the IBVM in Ireland, and to the extraordinary courage of women who carried on.

The grave of Teresa Ball in Rathfarnham