Loretto & Loreto: Different Communities Working Together for Justice

Through our work here at the UN, the Loretto office has had the opportunity to work with another religious congregation of a similar name, the community of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (IBVM) or the Loreto Sisters. While our relationship at times has consisted of differentiating our community from the “other Loreto” at meetings and in conversation with our UN colleagues, we have recently decided to begin to collaborate and celebrate the similarities in mission and work of our two congregations. One of the obvious similarities is the use by both communities of the name “Loretto”. We asked the Loreto/IBVM UN Representative, Anne Kelly, to share how her community decided on the name, and this was her response:


“The Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, often referred to as the “Loreto Sisters,” was founded by an Englishwoman, Mary Ward, in 1609. Her dream was to begin a new kind of community of women religious – independent, self-governing, free of the confines of the cloisters and responsive to the urgent needs of her time.  She believed that women were equal to men in intellect and should be educated accordingly.She chose the Constitutions of St Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits, as the way of life which she and her sisters would follow. Their aim would be to give glory to God by their work of service in the church through education and other ministries. Mary Ward was quickly joined by many companions, as she opened schools for girls across Europe.   Her particular devotion to the Marian shrine of Loreto in Italy explains why many of the schools and other ministries undertaken by her followers bear the name Loreto.


Her work flourished, however her prophetic vision proved to be too radical for the church authorities. The congregation was suppressed in 1631 and Mary was imprisoned by the church as a heretic. She was later acquitted of heresy, although official approval of her Institute was not granted until 1877.  By this time her Institute had grown significantly and spread across the globe. The vision of Mary Ward and her companions, with its focus on the education of young women – in particular those living in poverty – is as relevant today as it was four centuries ago.”


Loretto Team
Sally, Emily, and the Loreto IBVM team Clare and Anne