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The Beginning is Everything; 200 years of IBVM (Loreto Branch)

The story of the IBVM (“Loreto”) began in 1609, when an Englishwoman Mary Ward, established a new religious order for women based on the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). She envisioned a new radical way of religious life for women, mobile and flexible in their ability to respond to the needs of the time. Mary wished her members to be dressed in the ordinary clothes of the time, not to be confined by monastic enclosure and, most controversially, to be self governing without any interference from male congregations or bishops. Her vision of religious life was in contradiction with the norms of the Church and presented great difficulty for the leadership of the Catholic Church. While the Pope expressed interest in her work, he was prevented by Church law of the time from giving his approval. In 1631, Mary was declared a heretic, imprisoned, sentenced to death, and her Institute suppressed.

Frances Ball was born on 09 January 1794, at 63 Eccles Street Dublin, to John Ball and Mabel Clare Bennett, the youngest of 5 children; she was born to a life of luxury and privilege. Her father, John Ball, had built a very successful business in the silk trade, and had moved his family to the new, fashionable street on Eccles Street. In 1803, Frances, aged nine, followed two of her older sisters, to school in the Bar Convent, York. She returned to Dublin in 1808 to act as companion to her widowed mother, living a life of privilege and ease, thanks to the fortune amassed and left by her father. Along with her two older, married sisters (Isabella Sherlock, and Anna Maria O’Brien), Frances and her mother formed part of a growing and important group of middle-class Irish Catholic women who engaged in social and charitable works, relieving the harsh conditions endured by the poorest in society. Frances’ sister, Anna Maria O’Brien, became one of ‘the most famous lay Catholic philanthropist[s] of the early nineteenth century.’ This network of women used their positions in society, wealth and talents, to ease the suffering of the poorest and most destitute. For more please go to the online exhibition