Finding Sister Ann Elizabeth
By Roger Goose, Guest Contributor to the LOREtto Blog
It’s a bright sunny day in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It’s June 2018, the 21st as I remember, and I am with my wife and two friends, Don and June, having a week’s vacation away from work. Today I am at a loose end—Don has a planned photography trip and the two ladies are going to spend the day shopping. I am on a quest.
It all started a couple of days before, over dinner and a glass of wine. Don told me a story about his aunt that fascinated and intrigued me; I had to find out more about his family. His mother was one of five sisters, two of whom became Sisters of Loretto. One of the sisters, Ann Elizabeth, died at a very young age while at the convent in Santa Fe. Unfortunately, the family were very poor farmers in Kentucky at the time and could not afford to go to Santa Fe for the funeral. The consequence was that Ann Elizabeth was lost to the family.
Today then I am determined; I am not taking photographs nor shopping, I’m going to find Sister Ann Elizabeth. Little did I know this quest would take eighteen months before Don and I would finally stand beside her grave.
My day commenced early and the place to start my quest was a visit to the Cathedral of Saint Francis. As I walked into the cathedral, I held the door open for two nuns and immediately determined this had to be a good omen. I spoke to one of them and related, for the first time of many, a short version of the story that Don had told me. I asked if she could direct me where to start. She pointed to a door at the rear of the cathedral and the parish office in the courtyard beyond. At the office I spoke to a lady who could not help me, but she did suggest I visit the museum of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe Office of Historic-Artistic Patrimony and Archive, which I did. This building was in the same cathedral complex, just across the car park. On arrival, I was dismayed to see a sign announcing admittance only by appointment. There was, however, a door bell I could ring for assistance. Now at this point, I should mention that I am originally from England and after living in the USA for almost forty years, I still have some of the accent. I decided to ring the bell and “lay on” my very best. A gentleman came to the door but did not open it; I did speak to him however and for the third time that day told Don’s story. The gentleman opened the door and invited me in and told me his assistant may be able to help as she was very familiar with navigating around the records system.
So far, everyone I had spoken to about Sister Ann Elizabeth had been very nice and the gentleman and his assistant were no exception. I was there for almost an hour, going through this list and that, and while the assistant was looking through records on my behalf, the gentleman showed me the museum. Super people who showed a genuine interest and although we did not find any record, I will be eternally grateful for their help and kindness. They did, however, suggest that my next stop should be the Rosario Cemetery in Santa Fe, where there is a section reserved for the Catholic Church.
I found the cemetery on the edge of town, a very peaceful place to be after the downtown area and most certainly a place to sit and reflect, but not for me. At this point I was convinced I had found her and as I walked up to the office, I had a spring in my step and was looking forward to having dinner with Don and relating the story of how “the great detective” had managed to uncover the mystery. But not to be.
I entered the cemetery office and once again related the story and where I had been previously during the day. Once again, I met two very helpful ladies who immediately opened their records and lists of names of the deceased. No luck! Once again, I drew a blank. I asked if there would be any objection to my walking through the Catholic section of the cemetery to examine the graves. They said no and in fact, one of the ladies came with me. We walked past every gravestone and marker and did not find any name that could have come close. The lady went back to the office, but I walked the section again, not believing that Sister Ann Elizabeth was not buried there. Finally I had to give up. I walked back to the office to thank the ladies for their help and let them know I was leaving. As I strolled, somewhat dejected, back to my vehicle, one of the ladies from the office called my name and came up to me with a piece of paper with a telephone number on it. It was the telephone number of the Loretto Motherhouse in Nerinx, Kentucky. She suggested I call the number. There would be a records office that may be able to help me. My spirits lifted and so began the next part of my quest.
By this time, it was getting late in the day, which meant it was much later in Kentucky. However, I decided to give it a try. To my surprise the phone was answered and I explained once again what I was doing and who I was trying to find. The lady on the phone told me I needed to speak to Katie in Archives. She had gone for the day, but I could call back in the morning.
Next morning, I called bright and early and spoke to Katie, who, once again, was incredibly nice and helpful. She told me that she would have to do some research but would get back to me. I thanked her and hung up. A week went by and then two and three and I started to believe my search was going to end. Then one day, out of the blue, my phone went, and it was Katie. “I have some information for you,” she said. I was elated.
Katie had done her research well and informed me that Ann Elizabeth was teaching in Santa Fe but fell ill with tuberculosis. The convent had decided to move her to a sanatorium in El Paso, Texas, where she could be better looked after. Sadly, after her arrival, she had passed away. She had been laid to rest in the Catholic section of the Evergreen Cemetery in El Paso. Strangely, although of course knowing she had died, I was still saddened by the news, maybe because it was the end of the story. But was it?
I relayed the news to Don, and we determined that one day we would visit the gravesite to pay our respects. For some unknown reason however, I could not let go of Ann Elizabeth quite so easily. I wanted more and it was almost as if I was looking for some sort of closure. I went onto the cemetery website and figured out how to navigate my way around and locate a particular grave. Low and behold I found her marker stone! All of a sudden it was almost as if Ann Elizabeth was alive and real. Here was the person I had been looking for, finally found.
Let’s now fast forward to December 2019 and we are off to Santa Fe once again for a week with Don and June. We decided to drive, and on the return journey we would stop in El Paso and finally visit the gravesite. Don called the cemetery during the drive down to El Paso and once again a very helpful young lady provided an exact location. We realized how important this was because without this information we would never have found the gravesite—it was a Saturday and the cemetery office was closed. We drove straight to the site and there, after a couple of minutes, nestled in with several other Sisters of Loretto, we found Ann Elizabeth. Both Don and I stared almost in awe of what we were looking at. It was a very emotional moment for both of us and I am not embarrassed to admit the shedding of a few silent tears. Ann Elizabeth had come alive for me and I think she will stay with me for the rest of my life.
May God bless and keep you Ann Elizabeth; until we meet again.
In the Loretto personnel files we find the rest of the story of Sister Ann Elizabeth:
“There passed to her eternal reward at St. Joseph’s Sanitorium in El Paso, Sister Mary Ann Elizabeth, a member of Loretto Academy community of that city. Anna Corena Jenkins, the daughter of Lawrence F. Jenkins and his wife of Rineyville, was born January 18, 1906. She attended school at Rineyville and Bethlehem Academy, St. John, KY. Entering the Loretto Novitiate June 8, 1922, she was clothed with the Habit on the following feast of the Immaculate Conception and was given the name of Mary Ann Elizabeth. She was missioned to Missouri where she taught in the schools of St. Paul, Sacred Heart, and St. Pius of St. Louis for seventeen years, and in January of 1942, the present year, was missioned to Loretto Academy El Paso Texas and there began her sudden illness which so quickly terminated her life. Sister Ann Elizabeth’s parents survive her, also five sisters and two brothers: the Misses Eula, Elizabeth, Ethel, and Eunice and a fifth sister, Sister Mary Lucinda, S.L., and brothers Clarence and Albert.”
Roger Goose sent a clarifying footnote:
Don and his family were always under the impression that Sister Ann Elizabeth had originally gone to Santa Fe N.M. when in fact she went directly to El Paso. In reading the information [from the Archives], everything is now clarified. She was never in Santa Fe in the first place as the family thought.
Roger’s friend, Don, recently added his own footnote:
Thank you so much for sending the file on Sister Ann Elizabeth to Roger Goose. My mother Frances Elizabeth was the 4th daughter in the Jenkins family. My siblings and I never knew Sister Ann Elizabeth, but there was numerous pictures of her in our house and my mother was always so sad when we discussed her. Sister Lucinda visited us each summer for a week or so and we made numerous visits to the Loretto Motherhouse to visit her in her later years.