Loretto History Through Comics
By Laurel Wilson
Throughout their 200-year history, Lorettos have seen the importance of sharing their past. Numerous Sister of Loretto have used their writing talents to record the history of their community through books, articles, pamphlets, and more. One unique way that stories about Loretto have been told are in the form of comics. Two Sisters of Loretto wrote comic book stories about Loretto history in the 1940s and the 1960s.
Sister Lilliana Owens, SL (1899-1992), a prolific writer of Catholic history, was approached during the 1940s by editors from two different publications to write a comic. “At the time I was wholly unacquainted with the Catholic comic,” she later recalled in a column for The Catholic School Journal. But Lilliana soon saw firsthand the influence comic books had on young people at the time. Working at Immaculate Conception High School in East Las Vegas, New Mexico, she discovered that one of her students was able to successfully complete several class assignments because of what he learned from Catholic comics. She then began to see comics as an important learning tool and decided to write for Topix, a monthly comic magazine published by The Catechetical Guild Educational Society. “My objective was to prove that [the comic] can, if properly utilized, be made into a powerful medium for visual education,” she wrote in her column. “The comics are here to stay and it is up to us to see that this medium which all youth is reading…must be made mediums for good.”
In July 1947, Topix published Lilliana’s comic book story “Nerinckx and the Sisters of Loretto at the Foot of the Cross,” which details how Rev. Charles Nerinckx fled Belgium for the Kentucky frontier and helped found the Sisters of Loretto. It was successful enough that the vice president of Topix asked Lilliana to produce a special comic book for exclusive distribution by the Sisters of Loretto that would include multiple stories about different phases in the Loretto community’s work. Originally, it was to be a 48-page book, but a shortage of newsprint meant it was cut down to 15 pages. Still, it managed to include three stories related to Loretto history: “The Monument of Nerinckx,” which explained the legacy left to Loretto by Father Nerinckx; “Pioneer Nuns of the West,” about the sisters who journeyed to New Mexico to open schools; and “At the Foot of the Cross in China,” which detailed the challenges faced up to that point by the Sisters of Loretto in China.
Another sister who wrote comics was Jean Catherine Maggio (1913-2011), who was a Sister of Loretto for 37 years. She wrote comic stories incorporating Loretto history for the weekly comic magazine Treasure Chest of Fun and Fact. In 1960, two of her comics appeared in Treasure Chest: “The Spiral Staircase,” about the origins of the famous staircase at the Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe; and “They Opened the West,” about the determination of Bishop Jean Lamy and the Sisters of Loretto to open schools in New Mexico. Jean Catherine’s work also led to a special 16-page comic called “God’s Own Frontier: The Story of the Sisters of Loretto,” published around the time of the community’s 150th anniversary in 1962. The book featured three separate stories about Loretto history, as well as an introductory letter to student readers from Sister Mary Luke Tobin, SL, who was then Superior General.