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A rewarding visit to Shaker Village

Posted on March 1, 2023, by Eleanor Craig SL

Visitors enjoy a ride through historic Shaker Village.
Photo courtesy of Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Mercer County, Ky.

Recently a small group from Loretto Motherhouse paid a neighborly visit to the site of one of Kentucky’s oldest religious communities. We sought wisdom from their experience, so like Loretto’s.

In central Kentucky in the first quarter of the 1800s, Loretto women had many pioneering neighbors, including many who, like Loretto, were creating new institutions. A small number of women formed the Nazareth community, northwest of us at Bardstown, just four months after Loretto’s own beginnings. North and a little east, and a decade later, several women organized themselves as the Dominican Sisters of St. Catharine at Springfield. And before any of these, a third community formed, a mere two-day journey east of what is now known as the Kentucky Holy Land. Religiously inspired; simple, celibate and obedient; dedicated to personal holiness and the common good — these were the Kentucky Shakers. Their community thrived until 1923.

Following 40 years of neglect, a group of civic-minded individuals committed themselves to interpreting the incredible history of the Pleasant Hill Shaker community and recovering and preserving the Pleasant Hill historic structures. They established a nonprofit foundation through which to raise funds and restore the village.

Folks from Loretto know well how inspiring a visit to Shaker Village can be. Visitors making a day trip to Pleasant Hill can explore the exquisitely crafted buildings, hear docents talk about Shaker ways and enjoy demonstrations of Shaker dancing and craftwork. In recent years, visitors can also walk miles of trails all the way to the banks of the Kentucky River. A new commitment to regenerative agriculture is apparent everywhere. Shaker buildings more than 150 years old provide comfortable overnight housing and weekend conference facilities. The excellent restaurant brings thousands of visitors back year after year.

The small group of us who visited Pleasant Hill last December went with a different purpose. We had observed similarities between Loretto and the Shakers’s experience, and we wanted to discuss these with the Pleasant Hill administrators. Loretto has regenerative farming, a legacy museum and a spirit of hospitality. More to the point, Loretto too is approaching the end of its community of sisters. Could Loretto create a legacy environment like Shaker Village?

Michael Bickett, Loretto Service Coordinator, found the administrators “very knowledgeable … and willing to assist Loretto, [for instance] in the process of qualifying for tax credits” — a source of funding offered by the State of Kentucky. “The administrators are willing and eager to visit the Motherhouse. We’d like their assistance as we work to create a compelling vision for Loretto Motherhouse in the future. Such a vision will guide us in developing programming that provides us with sustainable income.”


Eleanor Craig SL

Eleanor has been a Sister of Loretto since 1963 and an educator since birth. She graduated from two of Loretto's best known St. Louis institutions, Nerinx Hall High School in 1960, and Webster University in 1967. She taught mathematics at Loretto in Kansas City, where her personal passion for adventure history inspired her to develop and lead treks along the historic Oregon Trail. From 1998 to 2010 she created an award-winning program of outdoor adventure along the Western trails for teens who are visually impaired. Eleanor claims to have conducted more wagon trains to the West than the Mountain Men! From 2012 to 2021, Eleanor led a talented staff of archivists and preservationists at the Loretto Heritage Center on the grounds of the Motherhouse. Now retired, she still serves in the Heritage Center as Loretto Community Historian.
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Loretto welcomes you

Learn more or plan a visit to the Motherhouse!