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Charles Nerinckx and Loretto Transcending boundaries

Posted on May 1, 2024, by Annie Stevens CoL

The Reverend Charles Nerinckx was a priest from Belgium.
Photo Loretto Archives

Two centuries after his death in 1824, Reverend Charles Nerinckx, priest-founder of Loretto, is commemorated in a cover essay I was invited to write for American Catholic Studies journal. With my recent research for the Loretto Roots enslavement project in mind, I reread earlier Nerinckx biographies and constructed his story to include the contexts of race and culture of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

As a fugitive from Napoleonic religious suppression in his native Belgium where he had been forced into hiding, Nerinckx developed a strong sense of Christian conscience in regard to human suffering. Among his notable contributions, he envisioned a new type of religious community in borderland Kentucky soon after his arrival there in 1805, one that allowed multiple forms of belonging, including an interracial group of oblates and a Black sisterhood.

Like Nerinckx’s life and work, Loretto’s mission in education and service transcends national and cultural boundaries. During the 19th century, Loretto followed American settlements westward from Kentucky, beyond the Mississippi to the Rocky Mountains. Before American women were allowed to vote, Loretto established two colleges for women, Webster University (1915) and Loretto Heights College (1918). In the 20th century, Loretto expanded to China, Bolivia, Chile and Peru. Individual ministries have flourished in Africa, Europe, Southeast Asia and Central America. Today, a growing community of Sisters of Loretto serve in their native Pakistan. This year, three thriving Loretto-founded schools celebrate their anniversaries: St. Mary’s Academy in Denver marks 160 years, while Loretto Academy in El Paso and Nerinx Hall in Saint Louis both begin their second century.

Through the generations, the lasting endowment of Reverend Charles Nerinckx to Loretto has been tested and proven: “Never forsake Providence, and Providence will never forsake you.”


Annie Stevens CoL

Annie has lived Loretto life, both as a vowed and a co-member, since 2001. She loves teaching at Webster University, serving on the board of Nerinx Hall High School, and researching Loretto history. In her free time, she likes to travel and frequently visits the Missouri Botanical Garden. She enjoys sharing her flower photos on Facebook.
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