The Loreto Sisters owe their existence to Mary Ward, a woman from North Yorkshire. Born in 1645, her lifetime, set in the historical period called the Reformation, spanned a time of great turmoil and challenge. The Reformation was an age of new discoveries, powerful and prosperous developments. It was also a time of war, and of religious persecution.
Mary Ward was a Catholic and her family suffered the fines and imprisonments of many English Catholics, while she bore exile in Europe rather than forego her faith and the call she felt to serve God in caring for the faith of others. Mary knew the experience of the political refugee and the feeling of leaving home and travelling to a foreign land. The atmosphere of change brought about highly imaginative responses and decisive changes in and for women and the Church. Mary grasped that women could come together for the sake of others in a different way than they had hitherto done. She believed they were able to organise themselves, and could bring the Gospel of Christ to others just as well as men. Her call was to bring the spiritual vision of St. Ignatius of Loyola alive for women. She travelled throughout Europe, in the midst of the Thirty Years’ War, crossing the Alps six times, with the scantiest of resources, seeking approval for her ideas and plans.
During her lifetime Mary Ward founded religious communities of women in several countries of Europe. Frontiers and languages did not appear to act as barriers but were transcended for the sake of the vision that impelled her. She met opposition within and without the Church. Today the whole Mary Ward family constitutes a microcosm of multicultural and intercultural reality. Differences, people, nations, languages, culture and religion are seen as an enrichment for our world.
In 1630, arrested for heresy and resisting the Church, Mary Ward also faced a short spell of imprisonment. She was innocent, and later was acknowledged to be so, but she hovered between anxiety, uncertainty, fear, and suspicion.
Mary Ward knew that women’s experience is valid, different and can be used to enrich all human beings. To do this she created a new framework of religious life for women. It was Mary’s desire, that women and men would live to their full potential as human beings. Mary went beyond the limits set by the religious establishment of her day in order to make a positive contribution that has yet to be fully discovered.
Mary Ward’s Institute spread throughout the world, spread throughout the world, North, South, East and West. It has developed today into two branches, the Roman and the Loreto Branch. These two branches search today for an ever closer union with each other.
It was Teresa Ball who brought the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Ireland in 1821. She was an Irish woman who had been at school in the Bar Convent, York which was run by the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Teresa Ball then entered in York and after profession of her religious vows she, with several companions, returned to Ireland to found the Institute in Ireland. This she did with much success. Mary Ward had great devotion to the Holy Family at the Holy House of Loreto, and Teresa Ball called the first house and subsequent houses “Loreto”. Hence the name Loreto Sisters.
From Ireland, Teresa Ball opened houses in India, England, Canada, Mauritius, Australia and East and South Africa and Spain. In more recent decades there have been foundations in Wales, Scotland, Peru, North America; with missions to Tanzania, Bolivia and Morocco.
In 1919 the Institute founded a house in Llandudno which became a Novitiate for those wishing to enter Loreto, and a boarding and day school. The former went back to England in 1969 and the boarding school closed in 1970. The Diocese took over part of the school buildings and ran a middle school until 1985. As part of the buildings were not being used by the diocese, they gradually began to be used by groups wishing to come to Llandudno on educational trips. Hence the Retreat Centre began. It provided accommodation for thirty-five people and was better suited for young people. Gradually the facilities improved and the Centre became popular for groups seeking a place for spiritual renewal. This has continued to grow.
In 1989 the Institute re-acquired the “Middle School” premises. The rooms being spacious, with lovely views of the sea and mountains, it was decided to convert the building to meet the needs of the many to get away from the rush and bustle of life, and fourteen self-catering apartments were created.