Loretto Heritage Center: Stories from the Past Opening Paths for the Future
What’s in the Loretto Heritage Center? Just yellowed old papers and dusty relics, right? The newest “yellowed old papers” are digital photos and emails fresh from Loretto members at last week’s demonstrations. The documents join the 1965 letters from Loretto Sisters marching at Selma; and the principal’s record of receiving the first black student at Loretto Academy in Kansas City in 1947; and the 1812 bill of sale for Tom, the enslaved man sold by Sister Ann Rhodes to purchase Loretto’s first land.
“Yellowed old papers”? Hardly. These are milestones of Loretto’s journey. The documents we hold are 200 years of road signs pointing to big ideas and lasting challenges, to paths taken, paths missed and paths to be avoided. And to probing minds, these can be warning signs and guides for the future.
One of our “dusty relics” is a very practical guide — a 2-inch square wooden box containing the compass that was the Rev. Charles Nerinckx’s constant companion in the frontier forests. In its own way, the old compass points to the future, too, prompting us and our visitors to ask what we’ll carry in our pockets to navigate the frontiers of the future.
What’s our Heritage Center for? Certainly not a hall of fame for Loretto; not a self-congratulatory celebration of Loretto good deeds. It is a professional institution with professional staff organizing and preserving the factual documentation of the past. It is an open institution, welcoming researchers and visitors, Loretto family, friends, students, and our Kentucky neighbors. Our staff assist in searches for historical facts; they challenge visitors to probe for meaning for the present and future.
Besides its obvious purpose as a repository for venerable old stuff, the Heritage Center opens possibilities for much that’s new: new friends of Loretto, new presence through the LOREtto Blog and on social media using the handle @LorettoHeritage. Recent research done at the Heritage Center has resulted in new insights about the past leading to new understandings about the present and publication of new essays and books about Loretto. New collaborations with our neighbors also have been forged. We are partnering with the City of Loretto and several civic groups to present a monthlong exhibition from the Smithsonian Institution to which we are adding historical materials gathered from our neighbors in western Marion County. September-October is a great time to visit or check this website!