The Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary was founded at St. Omer in Flanders in 1609 by a young English lady, Mary Ward (1585-1645), in response to her call to promote the Glory of God. She was inspired to start an order of women following the Rule of St. Ignatius, not cloistered and carrying out an active apostolate, which was far in advance of her times. Mary Ward met with severe opposition during her lifetime. Eventually however her plan was accepted as the norm for modern women’s congregations. Loreto institutions world-wide, can trace their origin to the opening of a Convent and school in York in 1686 by the young women who joined Mary Ward in this enterprise. It was from here that Mother Teresa Ball, along with two Novices went to Dublin in August 1821 to set up a House of the Institute there.
Rathfarnham House, their abode, was renamed Loreto House, a name that soon came to signify excellence in every sphere. The educational ideal of the new foundation, “To cultivate the mind by knowledge of virtue, to inflame the will by the love of what is good, to prepare living tabernacles for God Our Lord,” was the driving force that led to the spread of this unique education system for girls beyond the confines of this tiny island. The curriculum that Mother Teresa Ball had planned consisted of 23 subjects; she was also mindful of the physical and spiritual needs of the poor and set up a free school.
The quiet but rapid growth of Loreto did not go unnoticed. The first call to serve abroad came to Loreto Abbey, Rathfarnham in 1841 from distant Calcutta. The Catholic families in the city were worried about the lack of educational facilities for their daughters and they looked to Ireland for help. They chose as their spokesperson, Dr. Bakhaus, a military chaplain who was travelling to Europe on business. He was instructed by the Catholic ladies not to return from Ireland without the Nuns, six at least to begin with. “For the education of the upper classes as well as the poor.” True to their vocation, many Loreto Sisters volunteered and Mother Teresa Ball finally selected seven Sisters and five Postulants to venture forth into the unknown. Mother Delphine Hart, barely twenty-three years of age, was appointed their leader.
This little band of intrepid missionaries, whose average age was nineteen years, left the secure walls of the Convent in Dublin and set sail for India in the “Scotia” on Sept. 1, 1841, never to return to their beloved homeland again.
Foundation of Loreto South Asia
After four months at sea, they alighted in Babu Ghat in Calcutta on a grey winter morn on Dec. 30, 1841.
They were initially taken to the Portuguese Church in Moorgihatta (Picture of Cathedral) where they were formally received by Bishop Carew.
A great civic reception was held the next day, when they were formally welcomed by the European community residing in the city. The Sisters were allotted the Governor General’s garden house at Middleton Row to live in and they soon went about converting it into an educational institution for Indian and European girls.
On 10th January, 1842 Loreto House opened with sixty pupils. On the same day two nuns went to Moorgihatta and started taking classes in a small orphanage in the Portuguese Cathedral. This twin start had great significance for Loreto South Asia.
Ever alive to the needs of the community, Mother Delphine Hart and the early Sisters eagerly responded to the call to set up schools and missions wherever they were needed. What is remarkable is the fact that the Loreto Sisters opened several schools of an impermanent nature to cater to a temporary need such as the convents and schools in Serampore, Chittagong, Dacca, Vellore, Ootacamund, Purneah, Sagar, Jhansi, Hazaribagh etc.
Some of these were closed when their need had been met and others handed over to other Congregations as the number of religious congregations increased.
(Pictogram of different schools and colleges with link to the respective websites). The history of Loreto has been one of dynamic growth and change. From 2006-13 the Province of India was divided into two administrative units—a Province and a Region. With the formation of the Region the work of the Loreto Sisters in the Darjeeling hill areas and parts of the Terrai region and Nepal were strengthened and further inculturated. In 2005 the Mission in Bangladesh was started as a “courage to move” initiative and today it is a successful venture signifying hope for many in the diocese of Barisal, Bangladesh.
In 2013 the region was amalgamated and with Loreto’s presence now in India, Nepal and Bangladesh, in whatever ministry that meets the needs of society, the Province of India became the Province of South Asia.
Having been pioneers of quality education for women in India, the Loreto Sisters took on whole-heartedly the call of the Congregation to make a preferential option for the poor. Even though every Loreto school admitted students who were and are, economically disadvantaged, from the beginning of the‘70s into the ‘80s and until the present, the Sisters took a further step by actively engaging with the task of community development by setting up development centres- i.e. the Darjeeling Mary Ward Social Centre in 2006 and the Kolkata Mary Ward Social Centre in 2014, which helped in a focussed approach to social upliftment. They also set up schools in remote rural areas and provided accommodation for girls from rural areas who wished to pursue further studies.
The Rainbow Homes were set up in the regular schools, availing of the existing infrastructural facilities to ensure a secure future to those who could have been otherwise lost. This model has spread to other places as well. Today the government endorses this model through its Sarva Shiksha Abigyan programme and now runs similar Homes in many of their schools. ...Read More
The Loreto sisters have not only been pioneers in education but have been instrumental in the Foundation of three other women’s Congregations in India. The story of the founding of the Daughters of St. Anne in Ranchi and Bengal is a fascinating one.
The Lutheran missionaries of the Gosner Evangelical Lutheran Church- came to Chotanagpur in 1845 and established a Church and schools in Ranchi. They were followed by the Anglicans. Father Auguste Stockman was the pioneer of the Catholic mission and came to Chaibasa in 1873 and worked among the Ho people.
Meanwhile, the military cantonment in Doranda had Fatherr Ferdinand de Coq as chaplain from 1877 and he explored the possibilities of the Ranchi environs. Eventually in 1886 the Jesuits came to Ranchi to set up schools .They soon saw the need for the education of girls as well as boys and in 1890 Mother Gonzaga Joynt accepted the Bishop’s s invitation to open a convent in Ranchi for the education of the tribal girls, setting up a boarding school that matched the life-style of the simple Adivasi families that the children came from.
The founding members were Mother Gonzaga Mc McCarthy with Sisters Patricia Quinn, Aloysia O’Brien and Teresa Rodriguez.
The boarding school provided religious education – preparation for the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Matrimony along with literacy, hygiene and basic skills for good home making. The boarders went home for the planting and harvest seasons. Some came only for the marriage classes while others continued in the school for several years. The style of living was very simple Adivasi practice – no beds, tables or chairs but sleeping mats, metal plates and glasses. There might be as many as 400 girls or as few as 75, depending on the season and particular needs.
When Puran Prasad Kispotta’s daughters reached marriageable age they refused to marry the better educated grooms their father found them. They wished to be like the Loreto Sisters in prayer and service. After prayer and consultation with the General Superior, a pious association of St Anne was formed and the girls continued their studies and religious education under the guidance of the Loreto sisters and the Congregation of the Daughters of St Anne began in 1897 with Puran Prasad’s two daughters, his niece and her friend - Sisters Bernadette, Veronica, Cecilia and Mary. Sister Bernadette is now Venerable Bernadette, the first step towards canonization. As this order of Indian women religious grew, some of its members were gradually relocated to other Loreto mission outreach sites, including Morapai.
The Ursuline Sisters took over from Loreto in Ranchi in February, 1903 and continued the formation of this new congregation of tribal nuns.
St. Teresa of Kolkata was a Loreto Sister for 20 years and received all her formation in Loreto. In 1946 she wrote to Mother Gertrude Kennedy, the then Superior General about the “call within the call;” Mother Gertrude and the Loreto Sisters supported her in her search for God’s call as she left the gates of Loreto Convent Entally in 1948 to undergo basic medical training in the Medical Missionary Sisters’ Hospital in Patna. From then began the Saints’ journey in serving the “poorest of the poor.”
Venerable Mary Ward, the Founder of the congregation of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Loreto, believed that “The ways of virtue endure no standing still; she who does not go forward goes back.” And thus God’s work continues to unfold and history is created in and through the Loreto Sisters in South Asia and the world.