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Motherhouse History

The Loretto Motherhouse has a long history. From what we have learned so far, the land on which the Motherhouse is located was originally home to multiple Native groups. These groups included Cherokee, Haudenosaunee, Shawnee and Yucchi. There were also ancient Adena and Hopewell mound-building cultures. These cultures formed into five distinct entities as they moved down the Ohio River: Kaw, Omaha, Osage, Ponca and Quapaw.

In the early years, the Loretto Motherhouse was named St. Stephen’s Farm by Father Stephen Badin, the first priest ordained in the United States, who lived there from 1796 to 1819. The Badin House, erected by Father Badin in 1816, was the first brick house in Marion County, Ky., and is still in use.

The founding Sisters of Loretto moved from St. Charles, Ky., to this location in 1824. The first school building, Loretto Academy, was built in 1832 and was used as a school until 1888 when the larger academy building was built. Loretto Academy flourished until 1918 when the school was closed. Both buildings are still in use, the first as Rhodes Hall, an art studio and gallery, and the other as a residence, offices, the archives and part of Knobs Haven Retreat Center.

Father Charles Nerinckx, the clerical founder for the Friends of Mary at the Foot of the Cross, lived at St. Charles from 1812 until 1824 and moved to the present Motherhouse location in 1824. One half of his cabin which he built was brought to the Motherhouse from Little Loretto at St. Charles in 1895.

Other historic buildings include the Church of the Seven Dolors, which was rebuilt during the Civil War (1860-1863) after fire destroyed the original building, and the Auditorium (1886), which has been renovated into a new Heritage Center and Archives. St. Joseph Infirmary (1947) is home for retired and ill Loretto members.

The Stations of the Seven Dolors (1911), a large outdoor set, flank the sidewalk approach to the cemetery where Charles Nerinckx, Mary Rhodes, Ann Havern and Christina Stuart are buried as well as hundreds of Loretto Sisters. The Slave Memorial honors those slaves brought to the Motherhouse as part of the dowries of novices. At the crest of a hill is the AIDS Garden, a memorial to persons who have died of AIDS. It is both a tribute and a reminder to work for justice and act for peace in whatever circumstance we find ourselves.