U.S. Region History
From its start in 1609 in Belgium, the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary spread throughout the world. After its suppression, the Institute survived mainly in Germany, Austria, and England.
In the early 1800’s, the Institute spread to Ireland. Led by Frances Ball, IBVM, the sisters in Ireland sent missionaries to India, Mauritius, Gibraltar, England, Spain, and Australia. Because of the difficulties of travel and communication, the Institute in Ireland and the Institute on the European continent separated governmentally but not in spirit.
To North America
In 1847, Frances Ball sent five sisters to Canada. The superior, Teresa Dease, IBVM, established several schools and houses in Canada. In 1880, she made the first foundation in the United States in Joliet, Illinois. The first IBVM school in the US was established. The North American Branch was created in 1881.
Settling in Chicago
In 1892 the IBVMs expanded their ministry into the city of Chicago and suburbs throughout the next hundred years. They opened Loretto Woodlawn and Englewood High Schools. With other religious communities we formed Unity High School in Chicago, IL and St. Francis High School in Wheaton, IL. We have also served as elementary teachers and administrators at several parish schools in the Chicago Archdiocese and Joliet diocese.
Called to greater outreach many Sisters became Directors of Religious Education, Spiritual Directors, Adult Formation Ministers, Pastoral Assistants, Counsellors, Tutors, Secretaries, Development Directors, Preschool and Kindergarten directors. Their mission was to go where there was need that they could fill.
Mary Ward Center on the far southeast part of the city is our latest mission in Chicago. This is a place for individual tutoring for language and computer skills.
Sixteen years after coming to the United States the IBVMs opened a mission in Sault Ste. Marie Michigan . Eight sisters arrived in Saulte Ste. Marie, Michigan in 1896 to open St. Mary's parochial school. A high school for day students and borders soon followed and the IBVM presence spread throughout the Upper Pennisula. Although the schools eventually closed, the Sisters continued to serve in Religious Education and Parish Ministry. Throughout our 100+ year presence in Michigan, we have been blessed with 32 women who entered our community.
The Institute in Arizona has its own unique history. In 1949, IBVMs of the North American Branch settled in Phoenix, Arizona, to teach and to serve in the diocesan office. In 1954, five Sisters of the IBVM Irish Branch emigrated from Ireland to teach at Saints Simon and Jude School in Phoenix. As more sisters came from Ireland and a few from Spain and England, they were able to expand and undertake ministries in Prescott and Flagstaff.
California ministry also began in 1949 with the arrival of four IBVM's. At the request of the bishop these sisters opened St. Philomene Grammar School. In 1952 these sisters were joined by 4 others who opened a school, and eventually moved to, Our Lady of the Assumption parish in Carmichael. By 1955 three more sisters arrived to open Loretto High School. Many years and sisters later, the parish schools were eventually turned over to other Diocesan leaders. Loretto High School served the Sacramento area for over 50 years before its closing in 2009. During those same years of being educators, sisters expanded into religious education, public school education, service at Loaves and Fishes and running Wellspring Women's Center. Volunteer services extend into health care and social work in prisons and with homeless at the river. The Associate program (Now the Companions) has existed in Sacramento since 1988 and currently has 14 members in various ministries for the poor.
2020 was a year of change for the nation and the community. Covid hit the world and shut down all school and volunteer jobs. Three sisters remained in Sacramento until one was called to Regional Leadership that winter. By June the last remaining sisters moved to Chicago to be near the Community and their families. So ended the Sacramento chapter of the IBVM. 2020 – an unprecedented year.
For almost 60 years, the sisters of the two different branches of the Institute have been friends and collaborators in spirit, prayer, and ministry, but separated by governmental structures. In 2003, the Reunion of the Irish and North American Branches brought these two groups together. After careful consideration and prayer, the sisters of the Arizona Region (Irish Branch) joined the United States Province.
In the United States, the Institute is now present in Arizona, Illinois, and Wisconsin. Companions can be found throughout the country with a strong presence in Illinois, Michigan, California and Arizona. The Sisters and Companions in the US Province continue to follow the path envisioned by Mary Ward working for freedom, justice, and sincerity. A whole new Chapter of IBVM is beginning worldwide. The governmental structures are being explored as friendships and shared ministries have expanded to all Mary Ward Women. Union is on the way, and we all will be ONE!