Home / About us / Loreto in Australia / Mary Gonzaga Barry

Mary Gonzaga Barry 

Mary Barry (1834-1915) was educated at Loreto Gorey and Rathfarnham, Ireland. In 1875, at the request of the Bishop of Ballarat, she led the first group of Loreto Sisters to Australia.

"Leave after you something on which others may build."
Mary Gonzaga Barry

Mary Gonzaga BarryMary Barry was born into a large, well-to-do family in Wexford. As a child she witnessed some of the horror of the Great Famine of the 1840s and never forgot it. She was educated at Loreto Gorey and Rathfarnham, joining the Institute herself at the age of 19, and taking the name of the young Jesuit saint, Aloysius Gonzaga. She held various leadership positions over the next twenty years and in 1875, at the invitation of the Bishop of Ballarat, led the first group of Loreto Sisters to the Australian colonies.

Gonzaga was small, plump, profoundly deaf and increasingly dependent on the use of an ear trumpet and yet during her 40 years in the colonies she became one of the most significant figures in Australian Catholic education, particularly for women. Ireland was in her soul and yet she identified with her adopted country.

A women of extraordinary energy and faith, she embraced educational initiatives from kindergarten to tertiary level and founded teacher training colleges in Ballarat and Melbourne. In the last 20 years of her life she took a leading role among Mary Ward women worldwide in the cause of union.
Gonzaga died at Mary’s Mount, Ballarat, on 4th March 1915 and is buried there in the small garden cemetery.

Gonzaga Barry's international role

Gonzaga Barry urged pupils of Loreto schools to “leave after you something on which others may build”. She lived these words herself. In her 40 years in the Australian colonies she founded ten girls’ boarding schools, ten day schools, six primary schools, three kindergartens and two teacher training colleges as well as taking over the running of at least eight parish schools.

Gonzaga had a profound influence, not only on Catholic education but in the emerging world of a migrant-based society where Catholics were increasingly entering the professions. Loreto women were urged not to live a “butterfly existence” but contribute as wives and mothers, in the workplace and through charitable and cultural endeavours.

Gonzaga became a powerful figure in the wider Institute, forging close bonds with Mary Ward women internationally through her extraordinary travels and extensive correspondence. Her dream was to make the founder’s vision of union a reality with a Mother House in Rome. She was defeated by external political tensions and internal divisions but much of what she worked for has since come about.

At her funeral, Gonzaga’s confessor, Father John Ryan SJ, said of her:

“I have never known a woman of more varied gifts and all so admirably blended…. She seemed instinctively to anticipate the wants of her time.”


Mother Gonzaga Barry ibvm

Find out more