Friday 16 January 2015

The Year of Consecrated Life: Celebrating the Loretto Sisters

The Year of Consecrated Life began at the end of November 2014 and will conclude on February 2, 2016.  The objectives for the Year of Consecrated Life are: gratefully remembering; and embracing the future with hope. To support these objectives we will post one blog per month featuring a religious order currently present in the Archdiocese of Toronto throughout the Year of Consecrated Life.

We begin the celebration by focusing on the first female religious order to establish itself in Toronto, the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (I.B.V.M.), commonly known as the Loretto Sisters.

In 1847, Bishop Michael Power, the first bishop of the still new Diocese of Toronto used an ad limina visit to Rome to conduct a recruitment drive for priests and religious in Europe. On June 1, 1847 he visited Mother Teresa Ball at Rathfarnham, Ireland and the two agreed that sisters would be sent to establish schools in Toronto.

Five sisters arrived in Toronto on September 16, 1847 amid the typhus epidemic. No one greeted them upon their arrival as Bishop Power had not yet received the letter (below) detailing their travel plans. Despite the circumstances, they had set up their first residence on what is now Adelaide Street within a week and opened a school.

Religious Orders fonds: Sisters of Loretto (I.B.V.M.): General Correspondence, 1816-1849, July 20, 1847.

"Loretto AbbeyRathfarnhamDublin20th July 1847
Most Honored Lord,

"I was gratified with your Lordship's letter, dated from Toronto, 25th of last June.  I wrote today to inform Dr. O'Connell P.P. of Sts. Michael and John's Chapel that five of our Nuns will be prepared to sail from Kingstown to Liverpool 2nd August to proceed by the Packet, which will sail 3rd August for Boston U.S.

"The sixth Religious selected to complete the number desired by your Lordship exchanged this life, we trust, for heaven 5th of last July: possibly a candidate for Religious life may offer at Toronto and be trained to supply the place of one, who we hope, will intercede for the little colony, who go to propagate the holy faith under the auspices of the sacred hearts of Jesus and Mary and under the patronage of our glorious protector St. Michael. 

"No Titles[?] can be more appropriate for the numbers of our Institute, than that of the Diocese.It will not be easy to supply the places vacated by our Sisters, who volunteer for Canada we wish to send steady persons, who will be creditable abroad, as they have been edifying in their native country.

"Since writing the above Dr. O'Connell P.P. called and will be ready for our five to sail from Kingstown 10th August and from Liverpool to New York U.S. 11th August by the "Garrick". Passages for each from Liverpool to New York 25 pounds[?]."...
Religious Orders fonds: Sisters of Loretto (I.B.V.M.): General Correspondence, 1816-1849, July 20, 1847.

..."We have chosen Mrs. Anne Hutchinson for Reverend Mother she is 30 years of age; her religious appellation is Mary Joseph Loyola.

"Her assistant will be Mrs. Fleming, called Mary Gertrude she is aged 27 years.Mrs. Dease in religion Mary Teresa is well educated and intimate with Mrs. Phelan known to us, by the name of Mary Bonaventura and prized.

"The fifth is Sister to Reverend Mother, we style her Mary Valentina, she was educated in our school.All enjoy health and are are amiably disposed.If it meet your Lordship's wishes I can have a person with a religious vocation trained in the model school Dublin who can forward free schools in Canada by introducing the most approved plans for conveying knowledge.

"Two were already benefited, a third is to join a class in the Model School next month.
This is the 14th anniversary of our first filiation from this Abbey. Toronto will be the 10th Foundation from Loretto, Dublin. May it be equally prosperous with the preceding establishments.

"Since I received the honor of your Lordship's visit, a very beautiful demesne superior to Rathfarnham has been added to our acquisitions: a fine house too on it.

"All our Sisters enjoy their usual health.Soliciting the benefit of your Lordship's prayers,

"With esteem and respect,
Your humble servant in Jesus Christ
Frances Teresa Ball

"To Right Rev. Dr. Power"

Within a month Bishop Power had died of typhus. By March 1851, three of the five original sisters had died and were buried in St. Michael’s Cathedral crypt. Another had returned to Ireland. This left Teresa Dease as superior.  She took up the mantle of leadership and spent nearly four decades shaping the growth of the I.B.V.M. in North America.

First page of the entry entitled, "Sisters of Loretto"
 PH 31P/228AL, Religious Orders of the Archdiocese of Toronto Album believed to have been created in the 1960s.

In 2009, the Lorettos celebrated 400 years since their foundation by Mary Ward. A display celebrating this milestone was erected in the Pastoral Centre lobby:

ARCAT staff photo.
The Loretto Sisters currently work in education, the promotion of justice, and ministries of spirituality and pastoral care. They are truly contemplatives in action responding to the needs of the time.  For further information on the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (I.B.V.M.) please see their website.

For further historical information please contact the Institute Archives of the Canadian Province.

For information on vocations please contact: Sr. Lynn Cira, IBVM, Loretto College, 70 St. Mary Street, Toronto, ON Canada M58 1J3; Phone: 416-925-2833 ext. 5231; E-mail:

For general information on vocations please contact the Archdiocese of Toronto's Office of Vocations.

For further information on The Year of Consecrated Life, please see the November 28, 2014 post on the Archdiocese of Toronto blog.

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