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Answering the Call To Serve: Loretto Missions in Latin America

Posted on May 10, 2021, by Loretto Community

Archival photo of two sisters in habit waving from the door of a plane.
Shown above, Rev. Mother Mary Luke Tobin SL and Mary Peter Bruce SL wave goodbye as they prepare to leave Louisville, Ky., in June 1960 for an exploratory visit to Bolivia, South America.
Photo courtesy of Loretto Archives.

At the Loretto Assembly in 1958, six years after the last Sister of Loretto returned from China, Loretto members called for the Community to continue its work in the missions. The pope had called for religious congregations to send personnel to Latin America. And Loretto answered. 

Just as we did before sending our Sisters to China, Loretto first consulted with Maryknoll, which has a focus on the overseas mission activity of the Catholic Church. Then Loretto Sisters Mary Luke Tobin and Mary Peter Bruce explored possible sites in Latin America for a Loretto mission. Ultimately, the decision was made to open our first mission in South America in La Paz, Bolivia. Loretto’s school for girls opened in 1961.

Two years later a Loretto mission began in Tacna, Peru, followed by one in Santiago, Chile.

Historical photoo of a sister in habit reading to her students while walking between rows of desks.
Mary Peter Bruce teaches children in La Paz, Bolivia, in 1961.
Photo courtesy of Loretto Archives.

What lessons were learned? The experience of serving in Latin America changed the lives of those who went. The Sisters embraced the culture of the country. They understood that their work was to walk with the people, not simply “do” for them. It was understood that the U.S. history of domination and exploitation of the people in what was then known as Third World countries must end. Loretto Sister Pat McCormick, who once entered into a fast at the killing of university students in Latin America, wrote of that time, “It was a blessed experience of solidarity with the people.”

As the Sisters returned from South America, they talked about their experiences, other cultures, the mission of education and how America had been treating our neighbors to the south. They raised the consciousness of the Community. How privileged we were and are and how much we have learned and continue to learn from the people of Latin America.

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