The Loreto Tradition in Education

Our unique characteristic spirit derives from the vision and spirituality of Mary Ward who founded the Loreto Order (Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary) over 400 years ago. She wished to pioneer a new role for women in the church and society. At a time when the education of girls was not considered important, Mary Ward set about founding schools for girls. She saw this as the most important means of realising her vision that: “women, in time to come, will do much”. Since then, and through centuries of committed service by countless Loreto Sisters, the order has specialised in the provision of education and is renowned worldwide for innovation in their field of expertise. In the past few decades in particular, the challenge of maintaining the highest standards in terms of the educational experience for our students has been taken up by lay teachers and management who remain committed to Loreto values and the maintenance of the famous Loreto spirit and sense of community.

Our students can avail of many opportunities to connect with other Loreto students across the country by attending Loreto sports competitions, debates, Student Council and Development Education conferences. The Loreto identity is strong and as we say ‘once a Loreto girl, always a Loreto girl’!

Students portraying the life of Mary Ward

Our Ethos

As a Catholic school founded in faith, we see the spiritual development of our students as being an essential component of our mission. Gospel values underpin all areas of school life and provide a moral context for all learning.
In the context of a respect for cultural and religious diversity, the Catholic liturgical year provides regular spiritual landmarks for our students as we mark feast days and seasons with prayer services, displays and school Masses. Students take an active role by participating in and preparing
these liturgies.

Our educational philosophy is derived from the life and mission of Mary Ward and her pioneering approach to education.  This philosophy is underpinned by Gospel values and her radical vision for her times.  She worked for the fulfilment of her vision that: ‘women in times to come will do much’ through her ministry of education.

Loreto welcomes students from all cultural and faith backgrounds and we are proud of the diversity that exists in our school.  In this regard, our aim is for the well-being and development of all students in our care.

Our Educational Philosophy is described in the document (click link) ‘Continuing the Journey – A Loreto Education’.  It states:

Gradually, during her time here, a Loreto student learns to assimilate:

  • a sense of personal value
  • a sense of personal destiny
  • a sense of place in the historical context and scheme of things
  • a generous sense of responsibility towards others
  • a sense of the innate dignity of every human being created in God’s image


The story of the founding of the Loreto convent and school in Kilkenny is an interesting one with many aspects not widely known.  To tell this story it is necessary to start at the beginning with the founding of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (formal name of the Loreto Order), by an English woman, Mary Ward, in 1609.  She pioneered a new model of self-governance by female religious and, inspired by St. Ignatius, she wished for the freedom of her order to work outside the walls of the convent with the poor and to open schools for girls.  Her order met with early success and spread through Europe but unfortunately her radical approach did not meet with universal favour and her life’s work ended with the apparent failure of the closure of her houses and the suppression of her order.  Mary Ward ended her days in the Bar Convent in York with a small group of followers.

Mary Ward

Nearly two centuries later, a young Dublin girl, Frances Teresa Ball, was sent to York to receive her education. She would later enter the novitiate of the I.B.V.M. and in 1821 she returned to Dublin to found the Irish branch of the Order which would be known as ‘Loreto’; named after the Italian town which holds the relic of the house of the Holy Family.

Frances Teresa Ball

The Irish branch of the I.B.V.M. was destined to thrive and over the next century established schools across the globe.  Frances Teresa Ball had a strong desire to found a school in Ossory and particularly in the seat of the diocese. The annals record that in 1858, she attempted to buy a house in Kilkenny, but with no success.  They then founded a school and convent in Borris-in-Ossory having been invited by the local parish priest of the time, Father John Birch. Mother Teresa Ball did not give up her dream of founding a school in Kilkenny however and in 1860 the Loreto sisters had moved into a house in 30 Patrick’s Street.  This building was on the site of the existing Hibernian Hotel (built in 1905 and formerly the Hibernian Bank). We are told the ground floor was occupied by a Solicitor’s office. The schools were opened in October and were well attended, notwithstanding this, however, the nuns only remained a few months here, ‘the neighbours being too noisy and unsuitable and the premises were finally given up in March, 1861’. No doubt things are very different in Patrick’s Street now!

Meanwhile the school in Borris-in-Ossory had not grown significantly with only 120 or so students.  It is recorded that Rev. Mother Scholastica Somers, Frances Teresa Ball’s successor, had ‘then [in 1868] decided that a wider field of labour was more in accordance with the spirit of the Order and the aims of its foundress.’  Accordingly, Rev. Mother Ball’s original idea of establishing a convent in Kilkenny city was revived, and ‘recognised as a more progressive plan’. Therefore the Loreto Sisters withdrew from Borris, and set up their new home in Kilkenny City.  In 1868, Rev. Mother Scholastica Somers had purchased a house in Kilkenny that had previously been the town residence of Lord Clifden. This building, between St. Canice’s Cathedral and the current site of the school, is now the home of the Good Shepherd Centre.  Even though it is not well-known locally, this building had previously been used by St. Kieran’s College in its early years, providing an interesting shared history between the two famous schools. The annals record that the nuns first arrived on the 9th of September, bringing with them two students from Borris-in-Ossory which was being closed at that time. The first Mass in the Convent was celebrated on the 13th by a Rev. T. Kelly, later Dean of the Diocese. M.M. Patricia Hughes was the first Mother Superior, having also transferred from Borris-in-Ossory. The school opened its doors to students on the 5th of October 1868.  

Loreto students 1897

According to an advertisement placed in the Freeman’s Journal at the time, the curriculum on offer was: English, German, Italian, French, Plain and Fancy Work, Arithmetic. The extra curricular activities were: Music (vocal and instrumental), Dancing, Flower Arranging, Drawing and Painting. The school, boarding and day, thrived on that site, with many expansions and alterations over the years. In the 1970s the decision was made to build a new school on the Granges Road. This new school was opened in 1980 and the boarding school was closed in 1984. Since the school’s arrival at the Granges road, many changes have also taken place with dramatic enhancements to the facilities over the years.

In the early days, dressing rooms for P.E. and games were added on at a time when the Gym was in the current canteen area.  These dressing rooms have since been converted into offices and subsequently Learning Support rooms. In the mid 1980s, the (in)famous, and now demolished, old ‘Mary Ward’ prefabricated classrooms were added, while in 1996 a new wing of classrooms, including a Science laboratory (now room 302) and a Music room, were constructed.  In the mid 2000s our current Gymnasium and all-weather Hockey pitch were completed, greatly enhancing our sporting facilities. In the Summer of 2011, construction began on a major extension and refurbishment programme which opened up the school to the Granges Road, providing another dramatic enhancement of our facilities while creating a new identity for the school. Due to complications created by the need to appoint a new contractor, the project was delayed and was not completed until the Autumn of 2013. This new ‘Mary Ward Building’ was officially opened by Noelle Coscadden, IBVM (then Provincial Leader) and blessed by Bishop Seamus Freeman in May of 2014. In 2018 our Special Needs Unit, Ionad Saoirse, was opened along with a new multi-purpose space, the Hughes Hall (named after the first Mother Superior of the Convent).

Loreto Empowering Women

The story of Loreto Education is one of the empowerment of women by providing quality education.  Whether that is in Ireland or in any of the Loreto schools across the globe.  This philosophy is best understood by reading about the newest Loreto school which is in South Sudan: here

It is also apt to reflect on how the Loreto Sisters played their part in ending the ban on women attending University. This fascinating story is told here.

Mary Ward Award

The Mary Ward Award was introduced in 1992 (replacing the student of the year award). Each year, the Sixth (final) Year students select the student they believe best lives out the Mary Ward values of freedom, justice, truth, sincerity and joy. The award is presented at the end-of-year prize-giving ceremony.

YearAward WinnerYearAward Winner
1991Una Geraghty2008Colette Scariff Lawlor
1992Claire Comerford2009Sarah Boyd
1993Liz McEvoy2010Jennifer Trousdell
1994Anne & Linda Delaney2011Rosemary Mealy
1995Ann Marie Trait2012Josephine O’Neill
1996Ann Marie Lawlor2013Katie Doheny
1997Ann Marie O’Shea2014Claire Healy
1998Marianne Fanning2015Aoife Prendergast
1999Kate Hennessy2016Sorcha Ryan
2000Jane Foley2017Catherine Fortune
2001Deirdre Cody2018Grainne Hennessy
2002Noeleen Doheny2019Aoibheann Power
2003Gemma Grant2020Neasa Ruane
2004Ciara Purcell2021Sophia O’Shea
2005Rachel Lacey2022Ellen P. Murphy
2006Sarah Walsh2023Eden Penfold
2007Eimear Harding2024

Alumnae Awards

Each year, at the Christmas awards ceremony, a past pupil is inducted into the Loreto Alumnae roll of honour. This award was first presented in 2019 (as part of the sesquicentenary celebrations) . The purpose of the award is to acknowledge the achievements and contributions to society made by Loreto’s past pupils and to provide its current students with role models who can inspire them to live out Mary Ward’s prophesy that ‘women in time to come will do much’.

2019Helena NolanIrish Ambassador to Belgium
2020Dr Elaine McDonaldHead of School of Policy and Practice, DCU
2021Marita Walton LaniganElite athlete, reigning national shot putt record holder
2022Dr Anne Marie ButlerLeader in Agriculture and Agricultural Science
Loreto Students

Loreto schools aim to develop students who are well prepared to take their place in contemporary society, motivated by selfless generosity and aware of how fully they can contribute to the common good.