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Loretto Meets Challenge of Bringing Education and the Gospel to Others

Posted on May 3, 2020, by Loretto Community

“It has been Loretto’s legacy to inherit from Loretto’s early women a spirit of courage and trust and a willingness to meet the challenge of bringing education and the Gospel to others.”

Mary Ann Coyle, former Loretto president, Foundation Day, April 25,1997, reflection at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, Denver
A diorama by Loretto Sister Jeanne Dueber shows an image of a school house where Loretto Sisters taught.

The 1812 provisional rule of Loretto’s nascent “Little Society of the Friends of Mary Under the Cross of Jesus” to Loretto’s governing bylaws of today are rooted in the charism of education. Loretto’s Constitutions, “I Am The Way,” #7, put it this way: ”We continue to extend the boundaries of learning and justice, of human dignity and peace, of active faith and pastoral concern through works of education and efforts on behalf of the poor.“ 

Mary Rhodes, one of the Loretto foundresses, came to Kentucky to live with her brother and began teaching his children. She eventually went to the Rev. Charles Nerinckx to lay out her plan for teaching children in the neighborhood. Father Nerinckx sent to Mary another teacher, Christina Stewart, and they began teaching school in a little log cabin. Later they were joined by Ann Havern.

The trio approached Father Nerinckx in the winter of 1811 and into 1812 to discuss how things were going. The women told him they were so pleased with their teaching work and supported by being together that they wanted to explore with him making it a permanent arrangement. From those conversations began the formation of a new religious community. By April of 1812 the young community began to establish an identity. An increasing number of students, especially the poor and orphans, found welcome in the new community’s little school. The Loretto mission of education was born.

Father Nerinckx, Loretto’s priest founder, working with Mary, Ann and Christina, made many attempts to establish schools in the early years of Loretto. Joan Campbell SL, author of “Loretto: An Early American Congregation in the Antebellum South,” wrote that Father Nerinckx “tended to all his flock and, without considering age or race, taught children and slaves.” Joan relates in her book that Father Nerinckx had a strong intention to start a religious community of women who would “be entrusted with the instruction of poor children and slaves.”

In a letter to the Sisters dated May 29, 1824, Charles Nerinckx observed how in the first dozen years of Loretto’s existence, the congregation “took root and grew to what it is now, without any man having much claim to its rise.” Father Nerinckx often told the young Community, “Remember the sacredness of your calling.”

Loretto Sister Ann Barrett tutors a student.

And remember they did, as the mission of education spread across the United States, to China, South America, Ghana and Pakistan. Today, in addition to the schools running in the Loretto tradition, the Sisters and Co-members of Loretto have focused their spiritual and communal heritage on the crucial mission of education in many innovative forms: Loretto Community members teach, nurse, care for the elderly, lobby, minister in hospitals, provide spiritual direction and counseling, resettle refugees, staff parishes, try to stop this country’s nuclear weapons build-up, work with the rural poor, and minister to handicapped, alcoholic and mentally ill adults. 

“Our long and vital tradition of teaching takes many forms; we desire to educate others as well as ourselves to truth, beauty and the ways of peace in the spirit of Jesus.” (I Am The Way, Loretto Constitutions, #37)


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