The Loreto Sisters belong to one branch of The Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (IBVM) -the religious order founded by English woman, Mary Ward in 1609. Mary had a vision for a different mode of religious life for women whereby they would live a life inspired by the gospel, and being free of the traditional cloister that placed them under the governance of men. Most importantly, she believed that women deserved an equal education to men.
The Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (IBVM), more commonly known as the Loreto Sisters, was introduced into Australia in 1875. In response to the request for nuns by Dr O'Connor, the first Bishop of Ballarat, Mother Gonzaga Barry came with a group of seven women to Ballarat on 20 July 1875. They left Loreto Abbey, Rathfarnham, the main house of the Irish Branch of the Institute, in May that year.
The Loreto sisters established schools in Portland (1884), Melbourne (1891); Sydney (1892); Perth (1897); Adelaide (1907); Toorak (1924); and Brisbane (1927). Mother Gonzaga Barry took over the parish schools in Ballarat and South Melbourne. The order also established St Mary's Hall (later College) at the University of Melbourne (1917). Their aim was always the pursuit of excellence in a spirit of freedom, justice and sincerity.