The Founding of the Loreto Sisters/IBVM (The Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary)
On 23rd of January, 1585 a young woman was born in Yorkshire, England called Mary Ward. She was born into the world at a time of great potential and growth. Shakespeare was twenty-one years old at the time, to put it into context, and it was just before the scientific world would be changed forever with the invention of the microscope and telescope. At the time, the Penal Laws saw Catholics persecuted because of their faith. Masses and ceremonies went on in secret and there was a huge fear of torture and prison. She was born at a time when priests were considered guilty of treason if they practiced their faith and offered the Latin mass. Mary came from a family of devout Catholics. It was the law, at the time, to attend Church of Ireland masses and failure to do so resulted in court appearances, sizable fines and imprisonment. Her grandmother, Ursula Wright, for example, had spent over ten years in rat-infested prisons as a result of her beliefs. The Ward family was one of many families across England who remained devoted to their beliefs. These families housed Catholic priests and educated their own children in the Catholic faith, all the time doing this against the law.
As a young girl, Mary was often ill and she went to live with her grandmother as her parents believed it could improve her health. Mary witnessed her grandmother’s faith first hand and grew close to God from a very young age. Mary’s parents pressured her with ideas of marriage, however Mary remained firm. Mary traveled to Belgium unsure of where she would live but later joined the Poor Clare’s Convent in 1607 in a region called St Omer in Flanders which would now be known as Northern France.
Later in her life Mary was called by God in a vision. She aimed to set up a new order, one in which her sisters would love like the Jesuits, a very influential order at the time, go out like ordinary people and wear ordinary clothes. In order to set up this new order, Mary would need the Vatican’s permission. While making her first journey to Rome, Mary stopped in a town called Loreto in Italy. This was a town affiliated with the Holy Family and would later share its name with Mary’s new order. Pope Urban VIII had little time for Mary’s ideas to which Mary replied; “It will be seen in time that women will do much”. Mary began opening schools across Europe around 1620. Schools were opened in Rome, Naples, Vienna, Prague and further afield. Mary made all of these journeys across Europe during the Thirty Years War at a time when the plague was rampant. When false rumours were heard in the Vatican, Mary’s schools were force to close. Pope Urban VIII announced that:
“…we destroy and annul them, and we wish and command all the Christian faithful to regard and repute them as suppressed, extinct, rooted out, destroyed and abolished.”
Although Mary’s health began to decline, she insisted on another meeting with the Pope, who was very impressed by her views and determination. Mary’s health started to fail her and she began her journey back to England. Mary later died on January 30th, 1645 at the age of 60. At the time, Mary was not allowed be buried in the Catholic faith and so she was buried in an Anglican church in Osbaldwick, York.
Even through the difficulties of her life, Mary Ward never forgot her motto, rooted in the Gospel, of Truth, Freedom, Justice, Sincerity and Joy. These are the words which are woven into each Loreto school, worldwide. She never stopped believing that God had a plan for her and her mission was to provide education for girls. Even long after her passing her message remains that “Women in time will come to do much”.
The History of Loreto College, Mullingar
Loreto College, Mullingar was established in 1881 By Most Rev. Dr Nulty, Bishop of Meath. It was made possible by a member of the community of the Mercy Convent, Trim, Sister Frances Kerrigan. Dr Nulty obtained the site from Lord Greville, the landlord of Mullingar.
On 25th March, 1881 three nuns arrived from Loreto Convent Navan, to take charge of the new institution. It began as a day school and by 1900 and had a mere ten boarders.
The convent has been enlarged several times since its opening in the 19th century. August 1960 saw the opening of an extension that included a new hall, dormitories and classrooms.
In the summer of 1995, the convent made some additional space available to the school, enabling the development of a Careers room, a Prayer room and an extra classroom.Then on May 5th 2011, Minister Willie Penrose officially turned over the first sod signifying the start of a major extension and refurbishment programme which was to take place in the school.
Since then, the school has seen the addition of a new gymnasium, new office space, allowing the current office space to be turned into classrooms, new playing areas consisting of basketball courts and an astroturf hockey pitch. Other significant additions were the conversion of the existing canteen into science labs and the general refurbishment of the existing school space in the creation of a second Home Economic kitchen, modern General Purpose area, and canteen. And more recently, the Loreto Order handed over its convent to the school, facilitating the development of four more classrooms, offices, and teachers’ work rooms. The most spectacular space gained from the new area, however, is the convent church which has since proven to be a wonderful space for students and staff alike throughout the academic year.