“Mother Loyola’s name is becoming one that in itself is an endorsement of every book over which it appears...A careful use of Mother Loyola’s work will be productive of the best results.”
—Rosary Magazine, Nov. 1901
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Mother Mary Loyola was born Elizabeth Giles in London in 1845, the second of 6 children in a family of strict Protestants. Her father was a grain dealer on the London Stock Exchange, and they lived a comfortable life. But 1850s London—the London of Dickens—was dirty, overcrowded and rife with infectious disease. When she was just nine years old, her baby brother fell ill, and within weeks, Scarlet Fever had claimed not only his life, but those of her elder sister and both her parents.
Still ill and reeling from the shock of the loss, Elizabeth and her remaining siblings were taken in by an uncle, Samuel Giles, who had converted to the Catholic faith. The Oxford Movement had recently brought many distinguished converts to the Church, and in the company of her uncle, Elizabeth profited from the sermons of Cardinal Manning and the hymns of Father Faber. After entering the Church in 1854, she attended the Bar Convent School in York, one of the finest in England.
When she had finished her studies there, she felt called to the religious life, and in 1866 decided to return to the Bar Convent, this time as a Sister. For many years she taught in the convent school, even serving as Headmistress and Mother Superior for a time.
Because of her exceptional teaching ability, she was encouraged by Father John Morris, S.J. to write a book for children preparing for First Communion. It was issued anonymously in 1896 as part of the Jesuit Quarterly Series, but it quickly became so popular that she was persuaded to publish it, and all her subsequent books, in her own name.
It was her ability to draw in her listeners with story after story—and not just any stories, but ones that incorporated current events and brand new inventions of the time—that made her writing so innovative. Despite the fact that those events are no longer current, and those inventions no longer brand new, her books scintillate with the appeal of an active mind that could find a moral in the most unusual places.
There were no limits to her missionary zeal—she was known to employ her skill with anyone who would listen, even including the furnace repairman toiling away in the cellar of the convent. She started up a branch of the Boy’s Brigade in York, running it herself for ten years, and its popularity was a testament to her exceptional ability to incorporate elements of faith and morality into the most unexpected activities. Many of her beloved boys would later serve in the First World War, and sadly, some did not return.
Her correspondence was extensive, but it was one particular letter that prompted what would become perhaps her most popular work. A young boy asked her to write him a story that would sum up what he had learned in his Catechism. With characteristic aplomb, she obliged him with The King of the Golden City in 1921. It was a crowning pinnacle to her decades of writing, incorporating the bulk of her prior insight and weaving it all deftly together in allegorical fashion.
But she was far from finished with her writing career. A serious fall in 1923 resulted in a hip fracture, and confined her to bed. She bore the pain with grace, using the time to write more books and a profusion of pamphlets for organizations such as the Catholic Truth Society. It was just before Christmas in 1930 when she passed peacefully from this world to the next, bringing an end to her suffering and to a life spent in the service of our Lord.
Her work continued to be popular after her death, but as times changed, they fell out of use and out of print. Despite her status as a beloved author, little was preserved of her history or belongings, as was common for religious of that period. It is only in the last two decades that her work has been rediscovered, particularly through The King of the Golden City, and painstaking genealogical research has revealed much of what we know her early life. Much more remains to be brought to light from archives around Europe. If you would like to learn how you can get involved in the search to discover more about Mother Mary Loyola, visit our page on GoFundMe.