ENGLISH LADIES: Correctly called the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, one of the most important and influential of the later female congregations of the Roman Catholic Church. Its origin goes back to the attempt of Mary Ward (b. at Mulwith, 3 m. s.e. of Ripon, Yorkshire, Jan. 23, 1585; d. at Heworth, now included in the city of York, Jan. 20, 1645), daughter of an English Roman Catholic of Yorkshire, to found a female society after the pattern of the Jesuits (see JESUITS III). In 1606 she went to St. Omer and joined the Colettines, the severest order of St. Clare, as a lay sister. Dissatisfied with her work and position there, in 1607 she left the convent, with the determination of founding a new community, especially for English women, and successfully established houses at St. Omer and Gravelines in 1607 and 1609. The members concerned themselves chiefly with the education of girls, and were not bound to strict seclusion. In 1611 Miss Ward adopted the rules of the Jesuits, with the necessary changes to adapt them to women. She spent her time in constant travel in England and the Netherlands, and established houses of her order at Spitalfields, London, about 1611, at Liege in 1617, at Cologne and Treves in 1620 and 1621, and at Rome in 1622. The order did not find favor with the clergy, who charged its founder and its members with insubordination. In 1625 Pope Urban VIII. closed its schools, and in 1628 he decided upon its suppression, which was finally accomplished by bull dated Jan. 13, 1630, and promulgated May 21, 1631. To combat the opposition Miss Ward went to Rome twice, the first time in 1622, when she remained there four years, and again in 1629. In 1626 she went to Munich, where the elector, Maximilian I., allowed her to establish a house, and in 1627 the Emperor Ferdinand provided a foundation for her in Vienna. From 1632 to 1637 she was in Rome, and Urban allowed her to establish a new house there. From 1638 to 1642 she lived in London with a few faithful followers, and thenceforth in her native Yorkshire.
Though nominally suppressed, Mary Ward's communities lived on, perhaps not altogether without the tacit consent of high ecclesiastical authority. The company with her at Heworth kept together and about 1650 removed to Paris. In 1669 Frances Bedingfield established a settlement at Hammersmith, and shortly after one at York. The house in Rome was not given up. The Munich house had royal favor and from the end of the sixteenth century was able to plant filiations in South Germany, in Austria, and in the electorate of Mainz. Its eighty-one rules were approved by Pope Clement XI. in 1703; they were essentially those originally drawn up by Mary Ward, although all mention of her, as well as any acknowledgment of a connection with the “Jesuitesse”" was carefully avoided both by the pope and the members of the order, who were now called Instituta Mariæ or the "Institute of the English Ladies." A tendency to honor the foundress manifested itself within the order a hundred years later, and Benedict XIV. by bull of Apr. 9, 1749, forbade to call her "blessed," and emphasized the non-identity of the Institute with all "Jesuitesses." At the same time he settled a controversy between the order and certain South German bishops by placing each house under the jurisdiction of the bishop of the diocese in which it was located, but making the head of the Munich house supreme over the schools and all matters of visitation. In 1840 the supremacy of the Munich house (in 1835 removed three miles from the city to Nymphenburg) was limited to Bavaria. The Congregation received full papal approval from Pius IX. in 1877.
The congregation includes teachers, called "ladies" (Fräulein) and lay sisters ("sisters"). Both classes take simple vows for life, from which they may be released by the pope for canonical reasons. The houses are mother-houses and filiations. The members wear a black dress with broad white collar and white bonnet and black veil. Their principal work is education, and the girls educated by them number several millions. They are also occupied with labors for the poor and sick. They are most numerous in Bavaria, but are also strong in Austria, and have a house in Mainz and in York. There are filiations and mission stations in Lombardy, Bucharest, London, the East Indies, and elsewhere. Two Irish societies, the Loreto Sisters (founded at Rathfarnham, near Dublin, in 1822 by Frances Ball) and the Irish Sisters of Charity (founded in Dublin by Mary Frances Aikenhead in 1815, confirmed 1834), differ from the Institute of Mary only in name. The former have houses all over Ireland and in England, America, Australia, and South Africa.
(O. ZÖCKLER †.)
Bibliography: Heimbucher, Orden und Kongregationen, iii. 364 sqq. (where the literature is given, p. 364); lives of Miss Ward, Miss Ball, and Miss Aikenhead in the Quarterly Series, vols. xxxv. and lii., xxxiii., and xcvi. respectively of--Miss Ward by Mary E. C. Chambers, ed. H. J. Coleridge, S. J., 2 vols., London, 1882-85, and in DNB, Supplement, iii. 506-508; of Miss Ball by H. J. Coleridge, ib. 1881; of Miss Aikenhead by Maria Nethercott, ib. 1897--and of Miss Aikenhead by S. A., with an account of the foundation of the Irish Sisters of Charity, Dublin, 1879, 1882.