Ball, Mary Teresa (Frances) (1794–1861), nun, educator, and founder of the Loreto order in Ireland, was born 9 January 1794 in Eccles Street, Dublin, the youngest daughter of John Ball (qv), a wealthy Dublin silk merchant, and Mabel Clare Bennett of Eyrecourt, Co. Galway. Her father, a convert, was one of the most prominent catholic citizens of Dublin. In June 1803 she was sent to be educated at St Mary's (Bar) convent of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (IBVM) at Micklegate Bar in York, whose founder had been a pioneer of education for women. There she proved to be a gifted student. She remained there for the next five years, during which time her father died. After her return to Dublin she regularly assisted her sister Anna Maria O'Brien (qv) in charity work, making frequent visits to the homes of the sick and poor, and teaching catechism at the Mary's Lane Chapel. Through these activities she came into contact with the future archbishop of Dublin Dr Daniel Murray (qv).
Having undergone what she regarded as a direct call from God during her coming-out party, Ball decided to become a nun, and agreed to Murray's suggestion that she found a new and autonomous branch of the IBVM in Ireland. Despite the opposition of her mother, she returned to York as a novice and teacher in 1814. She was professed on 9 September 1816, and was given the name Mary Teresa. Though she would have preferred to remain in York, she returned to Ireland with two novices in August 1821. At the time their premises for the new foundation at Rathfarnham, Co. Dublin, were still in preparation, and after a period with the Sisters of Charity, led by Mary Aikenhead (qv), in Stanhope Street, she moved to Harold's Cross, where they rented a house beside the Poor Clares. From there they opened their school in May 1822. It was not until the following November that they moved to Rathfarnham and their own house, a sizeable property on the outskirts of the city. The school catered for the education of prosperous, middle-class catholic girls, and though Rathfarnham, like many other Loreto convents, had free schools attached, which often provided meals for poorer students, her career is generally associated with private education.
During its early days at Rathfarnham the order was faced with a variety of setbacks and problems. Many of its novices died young, and Ball herself referred to ‘the continual representation of persons whose interest it is to prevent the success of the establishment’ (Joyful mother, 106). However, her confidence and energy helped the foundation to prosper, and within a year of its opening the school had attracted thirty-five boarders. Similarly, the convent, later known as Loreto abbey, began to attract a steady flow of novices. A milestone in the order's fortunes came in 1833 when she accepted an offer from Dr Eugene O'Reilly (1768?–1852), the energetic parish priest of Navan, Co. Meath, to establish a Loreto convent in the town. That year also saw her open a second school in Dublin, located in Harcourt Street.
The order continued to spread rapidly in the years that followed, and another school was opened in North Denmark Street, Dublin (1836). New convents throughout Ireland followed, including Gorey (1843), Clontarf (1847), Bray (1850), Fermoy (1853), Letterkenny (1854), Omagh (1855), Borris-in-Ossory (1859), and Kilkenny (1860). Ball played an active role in the establishment of each institution, and went so far as to assist in the design of the Rathfarnham convent's new chapel, which was opened in 1840. She prided herself in never having refused a postulant for lack of means. A further landmark in her career came in 1841 when she sent a group of Loreto nuns to Calcutta. The order's expansion in India continued with the establishment of convents in Chandenagore (1842) and Serampore (1844). Under her supervision Loreto convents were subsequently established in Mauritius (1844), Gibraltar (1845), Toronto (1847), and Cadiz (1855). In 1851 she returned to England to assist with the opening of a new convent in Manchester.
Some of her ventures, such as the Manchester convent, ran into difficulties, and the Loreto school in Lough Cooter (Cutra), Gort, Co. Galway, founded in 1852, failed to attract a sufficient number of pupils and was closed in 1854. Nevertheless, most of her ventures were successful and by the end of her career she had founded thirty-eight convents. In October 1860 she suffered a serious fall that led to a rapid decline in her health. Released from her post as mother superior in January 1861, after a protracted illness she died 19 May 1861 at the order's Dalkey house and was buried at Rathfarnham. Her miniature was painted by Bernard Mulrenin (1803–68), and a full-scale portrait of 1834, executed by Joseph P. Haverty (qv), is in the possession of the Loreto sisters.