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5×5 Sister-Sisters

Posted on August 28, 2023, by Susanna Pyatt

Browsing through Loretto’s database of Sisters and Co-members, it is fascinating to see how many members had blood relatives who also joined the community. Five family groupings in particular stand out because they are sets of not two, but five blood sisters who all took vows as Sisters of Loretto!

These large sibling groups begin close to Loretto’s origins, with the Kelly sisters. Five of the 11 children of Thomas and Martha Hartley Kelly joined the congregation between 1822 and 1833. The two eldest, Catherine (Sr. Josephine) and Bridget (Sr. Eulalia), accompanied Fr. Charles Nerinckx on a flatboat from Baltimore, MD, to Little Loretto in 1822. The others – Margaret (also named Sr. Josephine), Julia (Sr. Theodosia), and Sr. Alexia – followed as they came of age. Not much is known about Sr. Alexia, who left the order after several years and eventually married. Her four sisters served primarily in Kentucky and Missouri, including as the foundresses of several Loretto schools.

Sepia photo of a Sister of Loretto wearing the embroidered habit.
Undated photograph of Sr. Eulalia Kelly (c. 1804-1892).
Image from the Loretto Heritage Center collections.

Half of the children of Robert and Julianna or Juliet Cissell became Sisters of Loretto. They were part of a long line of Lorettine relatives across multiple generations, including three nieces and five cousins, who also joined the order. Eldest in the family was Mary Jane (Sr. Febronia), who joined Loretto in 1840. Mary Jane died just two years later, so when her sister Mary Ann entered Loretto in 1849, Mary Ann also took the name Sr. Febronia. She was followed into Loretto by Amanda (Sr. Prudentia), Elizabeth (Sr. Ambrosia), and finally the baby of the family, Febronia (Sr. Parmena). The eldest three sisters may have stayed in Kentucky for their entire lives. Sr. Ambrosia served as Infirmarian and Sr. Parmena did cooking and housework at schools in Kentucky and Missouri.

Hutchins family tree
Family tree showing the Sisters of Loretto and chaplains at Loretto descended from John B. Hutchins, Sr., and Eleanor (Ellen) Brown Hutchins Bowling. See this blog post for the many Sisters of Loretto descended directly from Thomas Bowling.

The Daugherty sisters of Missouri were part of a large brood, as they were five of the 10 children born to Patrick and Elizabeth Daugherty and had at least 10 half-siblings from their father’s second marriage. The five sisters joined Loretto in quick succession: Sarah (Sr. Lucille) and Lucille (Sr. Gilberta) in November 1887, Mary Elizabeth (Sr. Febronia) and Regina (Sr. Leocadia) in November 1888, and Mary Catherine (Sr. Petronilla) in July 1890. They served in domestic roles at Loretto’s houses. All five served in Kentucky and Missouri, while Sr. Gilberta also went to Kansas and Oklahoma, Sr. Febronia to Illinois, and Sr. Leocadia to Colorado and New Mexico.

Sepia photo of a large, three generation family, including step-family members
Daugherty family photo, c. 1882-1885, showing the five Daugherty sisters (before they entered Loretto) with their father, step-mother, grandmother, step-grandmother, and 13 of their 15 siblings and half siblings.
Image from FindAGrave.com, courtesy of user Tom Beiter.

The five Hunleth sisters were among the 11 children born to Frank J. and Sophia Hunleth. One of their brothers became a Jesuit priest. Growing up in St. Louis, many of the Hunleth daughters attended Loretto Academy or other Loretto schools in the area. They were musically inclined, with the family running a music store. Agnes (Sr. Vera) entered Loretto in April 1913. Her older sister Marie (Sr. Sophie Marie) joined later that year. Their sisters Dora (Sr. Francis Aloyse) and Adelaide (Sr. Joecile) both followed in April 1920. Finally, Elizabeth (Sr. Elizabeth Marie) entered the community in 1927. Srs. Vera, Sophie Marie, and Joecile taught music programs at various Loretto schools, while Sr. Francis Aloyse was a school principal in New Mexico for many years. Sr. Elizabeth Marie primarily taught junior high school, though she also served as Superior at two schools in Missouri and Illinois.

Archival family photo of five women in habits and one man in a priest's collar.
The five Hunleth sisters with their brother Rev. Frank Hunleth, SJ.
Image from the Loretto Heritage Center collections.
Archival photo of two sisters in habits sitting in a parlor next to the piano.
Srs. Vera and Francis Aloyse Hunleth in their family home.
Image from the Loretto Heritage Center collections.
Archival photo of three sisters in habits sitting in a parlor with a piano. One sister holds a violin, one a cello, and one sits at the piano.
Srs. Joecile, Sophie Marie, and Vera Hunleth in their family home. Image from the Loretto Heritage Center collections.

Finally, all of the daughters of Eugene and Alice Tighe entered the religious life. Four of them became Sisters of Loretto in quick succession: Margaret (Sr. Lucina) in 1932, Mary (Sr. Alice Eugene) in 1933, Virginia (Sr. Ann Virginia) in 1934, and Alice (Sr. Carolyn Mary) in 1935. The fifth sister, Sr. Kathleen, followed in 1944. Their youngest sibling, Helen, joined the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Like the Hunleths, the Tighes were a musical family. Two of them majored in music or music education in college. The other three majored in education, and all five spent most of their careers serving at various Loretto schools around the country.

Archived newspaper clipping showing a family posing for a photo around the piano. There are five women in one style of habit, one wearing a different type of habit, two men standing to the left of the photo and one older man sitting on the piano bench.
The six Tighe sisters with their father and brothers, from a newspaper article in 1964. The family made the paper on several occasions when all the sisters were able to visit home at the same time.
Image from the Loretto Heritage Center collections.

Susanna Pyatt

Susanna Pyatt is the director of the Loretto Heritage Center. A graduate of Western Kentucky University's Folk Studies program, she geeks out over American communal societies, historic buildings, and the artifacts of daily life.
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