Loretto and the Arts
The Sisters of Loretto were founded in 1812 with a mission of teaching, but what were their schools like? To answer one aspect of this question, an upcoming exhibit at the Loretto Heritage Center explores how Sisters of Loretto taught the arts over the last 200 years. Since the founding of the order, many Sisters have been involved with teaching music, art, and drama, as both standard parts of the curriculum and as private lessons.
The 1816 Rule of the Sisters of Loretto positioned song as part of religious education: “It is for the school an [sic] help to piety, a pleasant recreation, a refreshment of zeal and an addition to education.” Music continued to be part of the education at Loretto schools throughout their histories, though the specific curriculum changed over the years. For instance, many Sisters and former students recall the Ward Method. This curriculum, aimed at Catholic children and the renewal of ancient sacred music, was put into place at all Loretto schools in the late 1930s.
Private lessons in music and art were essential for the financial support of Loretto schools and convents. Over the years, students could pay extra tuition to take lessons in piano, organ, harp, violin, banjo, mandolin, etc., as well as drawing; painting in watercolor, oil, and pastel; or china painting. By the 1930s, Loretto tried to have a piano teacher assigned to every single school. One teacher might have over 70 piano students each week!
Teaching the arts extended into Loretto’s two colleges, Webster College (Webster Groves, MO) and Loretto Heights College (Denver, CO). In the 20th century, many Sisters of Loretto who taught art, music, and drama received their Bachelor’s degrees from one of these colleges. Artist Sisters include Gabriel Mary Hoare, Roberta Hudlow, and Jeanne Dueber, who were all educated in part at Loretto institutions and went on to have long teaching careers and also produce a large volume of pieces themselves.
We have less documentation of how drama was taught at Loretto schools. Graduation programs from the 19th and early 20th centuries indicate that plays and musical productions were common at end-of-year celebrations. In the mid-20th century, school productions ranged from short skits written by students or teachers to full-length works popular at the time, like the musicals West Side Story and Oklahoma. Both of Loretto’s colleges had Speech and Theatre departments.
For more information about Loretto and the arts, check out the full exhibit at the Heritage Center, coming in spring 2023!