Frances Ball was an Irish woman, born in 1794 into a wealthy Dublin family. Catholicism was still suppressed in Ireland at this time. She was therefore sent to England at the age of nine to The Bar Convent in York, which was an IBVM school, although Mary Ward was not acknowledged as the foundress. In these times students did not return home for Easter, Christmas or summer holidays. They stayed at the school, and lived like religious, until they left school, usually in their late teens.
Frances returned home to Dublin at the age of sixteen. She was youthful, talented, had a striking presence and personality, and was much sought after by eligible young men. At the same time, she had always been a devout young woman and realised that she wanted to devote her life to God as a nun. Her biography tells the story thus. Like her two sisters before her, Frances would expected to make an admirable wife for the son and heir of some rich Catholic Dublin merchant family. At her debutante ball, a fashionable and lively occasion, she realised that she did not belong in the ballroom or in the life it represented. In the midst of the music and wine and swirling dancers she knew with total certainty the direction of her future life. God was calling her to dedicate her life completely to his service. He wanted her to be a nun. The idea took complete possession of her. No other course was possible. With the support of the Bishop of Dublin, who hoped that she would set up an IBVM community in Dublin, Frances returned to York to enter The Bar Convent, where she took the religious name of Teresa.
Mother Teresa Ball returned to Dublin in 1823 to start her work of setting up in Irish branch of the Institute, which she called Loreto sisters after the shrine at Loreto in Italy where Mary Ward used to pray.
A notable feature of Teresa Ball’s character was her unshakeable determination to carry out to the end any work she undertook. She was a gracious and imposing figure, patrician, aristocratic, even a little awe-inspiring, especially to the younger sisters. She was described as possessing modesty, gentleness, dignity, elegance and refinement, but her reserved manner led many to misunderstand her and consider her lacking in warmth. Like Mary Ward, Teresa Ball was no stranger to controversy. She encountered prejudice and bigotry from many people in Ireland, difficulties with some bishops and priests, as well as with her own religious sisters. However, she often gave the impression of sailing through life like a ship under full sail, serene and untroubled, without any of the trials that lesser mortals had to face. Her natural reserve was allied with a natural authority: she was only eighteen years old when told by Archbishop Murray that she was to be the head of a new religious congregation, and twenty-seven when she returned to Ireland as superior of the Irish branch of the IBVM.
It has never been fully explained why Mother Teresa decided to name her convent Loreto House, or rather, to use her own spelling, Loretto House, an error which remained uncorrected for many years. The town of Loreto in Italy holds a famous relic, an old house which is said to be the house where the Holy Family lived in Nazareth. The Holy House of Loreto became one of the great pilgrimage centres of mediaeval Italy and devotion to Our Lady of Loreto was commended by many popes and saints. The devotion of Mary Ward to the shrine at Loreto is well-documented.
The first of many Loreto schools began at Rathfarnham Abbey in Dublin. For almost forty years after bringing the IBVM to Ireland Teresa Ball established a wide network of convents and schools across Ireland, as well as in India, Mauritius and Canada. She died in 1861 after a long and painful illness.