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The institute was originally founded in Spain in 1848 by Father Joachim Masmitjá as a means of rebuilding society through the education of young women. A separate entity was founded in Los Angeles, California in 1871, and formally established in 1924.
In 1869, Father Masmitja's friend the Bishop of Monterey, California was visiting Spain. At that time, the bishop, Thaddeus Amat y Brusi, asked for some of the sisters to come to California. Two years later, with Father Masmitja's approval, Mother Raimunda led nine others to the new California mission. The Sisters established two houses, one in Gilroy and the other in San Juan. Very soon, the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart were teaching in several schools in different parts of California. The Sisters inaugurated a third house in San Luis Obispo (1876), a fourth house in San Bernardino (1880), and finally the last house during the life of Founder, Fr. Joaquin Masmitja was established in Los Angeles (1886).
Once established in California, the sisters set to work administering existing and building new schools as well as administering orphanages. Mother Raimunda served as the provincial of the California sisters until her death in 1900. By 1906, the sisters were able to build their own motherhouse. Also in the early twentieth century, the sisters began looking to separate from the Spanish parent institute.
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During the late 1960s, in the wake of the Second Vatican Council and its call for renewal of religious life, the IHM Sisters took part in an experiment led by the psychologist Carl Rogers (associated with the Esalen Institute) who was promoting the 'encounter group', or what Abraham Maslow had referred to as 'Psychology Three.' In such encounter groups, under the direction of a facilitator, participants were encouraged to unmask their real feelings as they interacted with the other group participants.
The first trial experiment was held in 1966. With its apparent success, the experiment was begun en masse in 1967, with all the sisters and the schools they ran in the Los Angeles Archdiocese participating. These experiments took place in a general environment where already many Catholic religious institutes of women elected to discard habits, formally organized community life, and most other attributes of an organized religious congregation to better serve contemporary society. The encounter groups facilitated such changes in the IHMs community.
Archbishop James Cardinal McIntyre of Los Angeles, disregarding the Second Vatican Council, insisted that if the IHM Sisters were to continue teaching in the schools of the archdiocese, they would have to maintain a number of rules he believed were essential to female community life. The sisters, in turn, objected to the Archbishop dictating their attire, bedtimes, and hours of prayer. The Vatican congregation that oversaw religious life refused to intervene for the IHM Sisters.
Then-superior Anita Caspary remained firm in implementing the reforms, and on 1 February 1970 roughly ninety percent of the IHM Sisters followed Caspary and were subsequently dispensed from their vows. They went on to form a non-canonical group that admits both men and women known as the Immaculate Heart Community.
An ensuing property settlement left remaining IHM sisters with certain properties, while those dispensed obtained control of Immaculate Heart College and Immaculate Heart High School in Los Angeles. Virtually no IHM sisters remained in teaching positions in the LA archdiocese's vast parochial school system, forefront of the exodus of religious that was soon to affect the nation's entire Roman Catholic school system.
After failed attempts to resolve differences with those remaining in the congregation and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, some formed a group that relocated to the Diocese of Wichita in Kansas. These IHM sisters remain active, as does the small congregation in California.
In 1911, five sisters from Spain and two from California were sent to start a school in Mazatlán, Mexico. Six years later, in 1917, the sisters were forced to leave due to the Mexican Revolution. During a stop in their journey back to California, Bishop Henry Granjon of Tucson, Arizona invited the sisters to stay and they accepted. From there, they began building schools and accepting postulants.
Due to growth over time, in 1946 the sisters in Arizona became the Province of Saint Joseph. In 1947 the Novitiate moved to Sabino Canyon Road, at the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains outside Tucson. In 1987 Bishop Manuel Moreno asked the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary to have Latin Mass celebrated in their chapel at Sabino Canyon, which continued until 2005
These IHM sisters remain active in both Arizona and Florida.
The headquarters of the Immaculate Heart Community are located 5515 Franklin Avenue near Western Avenue, in the Los Feliz district of Los Angeles.
The Center for Spiritual Renewal, on 26 acres in Montecito, California, has been a place of prayer, spiritual growth, and personal renewal for the Immaculate Heart Community since 1943. It was also the hub of activity for the Novitiate for many years.
The Convent of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary was located in the Los Feliz district of Los Angeles, sharing the former Earle C. Anthony estate with the Cardinal Timothy Manning House of Prayer for Priests. Designed by Bernard Maybeck in 1927, the mansion was remodeled and enlarged in the mid-1990s. Both facilities were closed by the Archdiocese in 2011. Disputes of ownership between the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles gained media attention when Katy Perry attempted to purchase the estate in 2015, with plans to restore it to a private mansion.