A new future for Loretto Heights
During the Loretto Heights reunion weekend in June, alumni were able to spend time on the campus. There were tours of Pancratia apartments and the Administration Building. We had lunch in Machebeuf Hall (at the same tables and chairs we used 50-plus years ago!). Following lunch, a variety of stakeholders shared information about different portions of the development on the property.
Marian and Walsh dormitories have been razed as has the pool area. Many trees are gone. Infrastructure is in place for an estimated 1200 homes and apartments. It is now a huge construction site for a dense, new urban community. For those of us who love this campus and what it stood for, it has been difficult to watch.
Pancratia Hall is now beautifully redesigned into 74 affordable housing units. Every effort was made to retain the character of the building. Along the halls, there are historical pictures of the campus and the sisters. The front reception room remains as it was, including the portrait of Pancratia over the fireplace. The unit which was once the gym has the basketball hoop — still hanging. Stained glass was preserved and utilized. Old cabinetry has been restored in some units. Kitchen tiling is now a dark green and white motif, and the terrazzo floors are retained. There is a nice playground and park area in the back. Unit sizes range from small efficiency apartments to three-bedroom units for families.
Machebeuf Hall is to become a community center which will provide integrated services for families in the area. This will include a food bank, mental health and educational services, community garden and case management.
When the Denver Osceola house was sold (Osceola is where Mary Ann Coyle and Mary Ann Cunningham lived), Loretto donated $100,000 to Común, a local agency run by social worker Margaret Brugger. Margaret reported to the entire gathering at Machebeuf that this donation came at the exact time when it was needed. Both the amount of money and the fact that it came from Loretto gave credibility to this endeavor and made it possible for Común to proceed with their bid on the property. The gift helped the Urban Land Conservancy complete the purchase.
Común will receive a Community Development Block Grant from the Office of Economic Development and Opportunity. This grant will, over time, pay off the full purchase price of the property (almost $3 million!). Común staff is fundraising for the cost of renovations and upgrades to all systems at Machebeuf and for bringing it into Americans with Disabilities Act compliance. Their army of volunteers has cleaned the entire building. Lydia Marie Peña has provided ongoing support and advice to Margaret as she has worked through the labyrinth of challenges involved in this project.
Many street names throughout the area will sound familiar: Machebeuf Way, Frances Marie Walsh Drive, Loretto Way.
The City and County of Denver has purchased the center of performing arts (CPA) and library. The initial plan was to purchase and restore only the CPA, but the buildings are connected by a glass walkway and the library has beautiful space and views. It will provide a venue for local artist studios, galleries, classes, after-show gatherings, weddings and other special events. It will bring the arts to Southwest Denver.
Grand Peaks Development is building on four multifamily parcels of land. They are naming their neighborhood “Sorella [Sister] at Loretto Heights” in honor of the sisters who built the school and taught there.
There will be a memorial garden designed and created in the area where the cemetery once stood.
Mark Witkiewicz, from West Side Investment Partners, the developer of LHC property, reported that they are required by the City of Denver to provide 12 percent of the new residential buildings as affordable housing. He estimated that the actual number would be closer to 20 percent.
Currently there is no plan for the parcel of land which includes the administration building, priest house and chapel. Whoever purchases this portion will have to bring those buildings up to code and preserve their historical status.
No discussion of this project could be written without acknowledging the incredible amount of work Mary Nelle Gage and Ruth Routten have done at Loretto Heights over the past several years. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude. Their input and presence have kept Loretto’s history alive for the developers and others involved in the project.
It is my belief that the Spirit of Loretto will continue to have an undeniable presence on this holy ground. Southwest Denver is home to many people of Hispanic and Southeast Asian descent. Resources in the area are limited. Social services and cultural opportunities that will be developed on the Loretto Heights property will provide much needed support, enrichment and sharing to the community.
“Let Loretto be Loretto Forever.”