‘Gentlemen, if you take the house, you will have to take the sisters also!’
With the discovery of gold on the banks of Cherry Creek in Denver in 1864, the Sisters of Loretto in Santa Fe, N.M., were asked by Father Joseph Projectus Machebeuf to send sisters to teach the children of miners and settlers. St. Mary’s Day School opened in 1864 in downtown Denver. By 1888, there was a need for another school, a boarding school. Loretto Sister Pancratia Bonfils and three other sisters journeyed by sleigh on a snowy March 19, the feast of St. Joseph, almost seven miles southwest of downtown to Sheridan Hill. Acres were purchased, an architect engaged, the building began and the cornerstone was laid Sept. 21,1890. On the feast of All Souls, one year later, Nov. 2, 1891, 20 sisters and 51 girls moved into the new Loretto Heights Academy.
With the silver panic of 1893, the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co., which held a mortgage on the building, threatened to foreclose on the loan. Loretto Mother Praxedes Carty, local superior of Loretto Heights Academy, journeyed to Milwaukee, accompanied by Loretto Sister Lavialle Daly to appeal to the Board of Directors for an extension. Mother Praxedes told the board, “Gentlemen, if you take the house, you will have to take the sisters also!” She won the day with the granting of the extension.
Loretto Heights College opened in 1918 and through the succeeding 70 years innovative programs such as “University Without Walls” and the excellent nursing program were developed. The College View Neighborhood house extended Loretto’s faith and service mission. The Academy closed in 1941; Loretto Heights College closed in 1988. Loretto Heights has been a crown jewel of Loretto’s venture into higher education in Colorado.
Teikyo University operated educational programs on campus through 2016 and education continues through a Denver Public Stem School on campus.
Pancratia Hall, built in the early 1930s to accommodate the Academy students, which held both classrooms and dormitory rooms for college students, has now been restored and redeveloped into 72 affordable housing apartments, The grand “re-opening” took place May 12 on the feast of St. Pancras, with the Denver mayor cutting the ribbon.
Loretto Heights, with its historic buildings still standing tall, always looking forward, continues its long legacy of welcome and service on Federal Boulevard in Southwest Denver.
Follow along this week on Loretto’s Facebook page as we showcase the continuation of the Loretto Heights story: the old cemetery gets moved, new apartments are built and familiar Loretto names greet travelers along the campus streets. See how Loretto Heights lives on!
A Memorial Mass and Committal Service for the 62 Sisters of Loretto formerly buried in the Loretto Heights Cemetery will take place at 11 a.m. Monday, Aug. 22, at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Wheat Ridge, Colo. A floral tribute with musical interlude will begin at 10 a.m. in front of Gallagher Chapel. These pioneer Sisters who are being reburied at Mount Olivet began the first Loretto schools in Denver beginning in 1864. The Loretto Heights Cemetery was the site of their burials between 1896 and 1969. They will be re-interred among 21 other Sisters of Loretto buried at Mount Olivet since 1969. For additional information and to RSVP, please use the form below.