Papers of Loreto Abbey, Rathfarnham, Dublin

Repository: Loreto Central and Irish Province Archives

Identity Statement

TitlePapers of Loreto Abbey, Rathfarnham, Dublin
Archive ReferenceIE LA/RATH
Web Link to this Entry
Creation Dates1814-2008
Extent Medium25 Archival Boxes + 33 volumes


Creator(s): Loreto Community, Loreto Abbey, Rathfarnham, Dublin

  • Administrative History ↴

    Loreto Abbey, Rathfarnham, Dublin was a boarding school, convent and farm were established by the Irish branch of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Loreto) in 1822 and remained in use as a boarding school and convent until 1999. The Institute of the Blessed Virgin had been established in St Omer, by Englishwoman Mary Ward in 1609. Due to religious persecution, Mary Ward and her companions were unable to follow their vocation in England. They established a school in St Omer, and houses were established during her lifetime in Bavaria, Austria, Italy and England. Mary Ward’s ideas of religious life based on the Jesuit principles, of ‘unenclosed apostolic women religious’ were so radical that in 1631 her Institute was suppressed. Mary Ward died in Yorkshire in 1644. Despite the suppression, the Institute continued to grow and develop, although the sisters were not free to acknowledge Mary Ward as foundress. The Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary was finally recognised by the Church in 1877, and in 1909 Mary Ward was recognised as foundress. The complex history of the religious order founded by Mary Ward since 1609, resulted in the establishment at various times of separate houses and Generalates. There are at present two branches of the Institute, the Congregatio Jesu and the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, known as the Loreto sisters, founded in Ireland in 1821. Dr Daniel Murray, Archbishop of Dublin, anxious to take advantage of the loosening of the Penal Laws, and the imminent Catholic Emancipation, was anxious to increase the educational and medical facilities available to Catholics in Dublin and throughout the island. Dr Murray, a close family friend of the Ball family, encouraged Frances Ball to follow her vocation and enter religious life. Frances Ball was born on 6th January 1794, youngest daughter of John Ball, wealthy silk merchant of 47 Eccles Street, Dublin. She was educated at Micklegate Bar Convent, York from 1803 – 1809, before returning to Dublin. She returned to York in 1814, was known as Teresa in religion, was professed in September 1816 and remained in York for a total of seven years, completing her training and preparation for the establishment of the Institute in Ireland. She undertook the preparation for the establishment of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Ireland at the behest of Dr Murray. In November 1821, M. Teresa Ball and her two companions, M. Baptist Therry and M. Ignatia Arthur, returned to Ireland to establish the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Ireland. In 1821, Dr Murray purchased the dilapidated Rathfarnham House, but it was not fit to be occupied until 4 November 1822. On occupation a boarding school, convent community and free school were opened for Catholic girls. Rathfarnham House was renamed, ‘Loretto Abbey’, after a shrine to the holy family in Loreto, a small town near Ancona, Italy. The spelling changed in the early 20th century to Loreto. Loreto Abbey remained the ‘Mother House’ of the Institute in Ireland, and its dependent foreign houses until 1976, a centre for community, novitiate and boarding school until 1999. In 1994 a decision was taken to close the boarding school, this was achieved in 1999.The property was put for sale, and was eventually purchased by Liam Carroll of Danninger Developments in 1999.
  • Archival History ↴

    The material comprising this fonds was created, or received, by the local Superiors and members of the community of Loreto Abbey Rathfarnham from 1814 – 2008. Material was periodically transferred to Loreto Central and Irish Province Archives.
  • Immediate Source Acquisition ↴

    Official Transfer

Content & Structure

  • Scope & Content: Loreto Community, Loreto Abbey, Rathfarnham, Dublin ↴

    The papers of Loreto Abbey, Rathfarnham, Dublin, comprises the papers of the community, novitiate, boarding school and free school, primary level, established at Loreto Abbey, Rathfarnham. From 1821 – 1976, Loreto Abbey, was referred to as the ‘mother house’, the home of both the Generalate and the Institute in Ireland. The Generalate moved to Rome in 1976.

    The papers of Loreto Abbey Rathfarnham contain a wealth of information for those interested in religious sisters, education in Ireland, women’s history, and local history.
    Novitiate records include registers, noviceship annals, registers of canonical and academic examinations undertaken by postulants and novices, and accounts for the novitiate.
    Community records include annals, accounts, minutes of local council meetings, discussions and preparations for the closure of the Abbey, records of the nursing home ‘Lourdes Unit’ established on the grounds and opened in 1980 to care for elderly and ill sisters Correspondence relating to the construction of Loreto House, Loreto Terrace which housed some of the community formerly resident at Loreto Abbey are also included.

    The primary apostolic mission of the community in Loreto Abbey was the education of Catholic girls. The records of the boarding school include school accounts, student registers, school magazines, staff records, letters to parents, scripts of school plays, records of sodalities, material relating to the parents association and past pupils association, and material relating to the closure of the boarding school in 1999. A boarding school, a Poor School, providing free primary level education for the local poor of the area was opened in May 1823. No records from the original primary school remain in this collection.

    The sale of land for development purposes from 1973 – 1983, material includes letters to property developers, building consultants, solicitors and auctioneers.
    Loreto Abbey was restored in 1979, records of fundraising activities, costs and financial analysis, correspondence with architects, consulting engineers and contractors, quantity surveyors, plans and drawings, and reports on the restoration project.

    Loreto Abbey was sold in 1999, due to declining pupil numbers and the inadequacy of the convent accommodation. Records includes negotiations and correspondence with auctioneers, interested parties and potential purchasers, listings of house contents which were sold by public auction in June 2000, newspaper cuttings relating to the sale, and letters regarding the use of Abbey lands after the sale.

    History of Loreto Abbey Rathfarnham and local history of the Rathfarnham, and biographical information on the Irish sculptor, John Hogan (1800 – 1858) who was commissioned by M. Teresa Ball for the execution of the main altar at Loreto Abbey Rathfarnham.

  • Appraisal Destruction ↴

    Permanent Retention
  • Arrangement ↴

    Previous arrangement and cataloguing of the papers had been undertaken in the General Archives, but a decision was taken in 2009 to update the catalogues in order to bring them to ISAD(G) 2006 standards. Care has been taken, where possible, to retain the original order in which the documents were arranged. The Loreto Abbey, Rathfarnham fonds has been arranged into eight series, arranged according to the functions of the Abbey; novitiate, Boarding School, community and then activities relating to the Abbey; sale, restoration, history of the Rathfarnham area and the Abbey, and finally John Hogan, Irish sculptor, his sculptures remain in the Abbey Chapel.

Conditions of Access & Use

Access Conditions Generally Open Access by Prior Appointment. Some access restrictions may apply, and access is at the discretion of the Archivist.
Conditions Governing ReproductionReproduction is dependent on condition of original item
Creation Dates1814-2008
Extent Medium25 Archival Boxes + 33 volumes
Material Language ScriptEnglish
Characteristics Tech ReqBound volumes + loose documents. Some items may be difficult to read. Careful handling is required.
Finding Aids Catalogue can be consulted in Loreto Central and Irish Province Archives, Reading Room. Archive Web Link →

Allied Materials

There are no Allied Materials

Descriptive Control Area

Archivist NoteÁine Mc Hugh
Rules/ConventionsISAD(G): General International Standard Archival Description. 2nd ed. Ottowa: International Council on Archives, 2000.
Date of Descriptions40575