Loretto Treasures: Webster University and Loretto Heights College
From the foundation of the Sisters of Loretto in 1812 to this day, education is central to the mission of Loretto. Schools were formed as the initial work of the Community as it was growing in Kentucky. The first Sisters quickly welcomed new members who joined the mission to serve the children of the area. The first pupil to join the Congregation was Agnes Heart in 1815. Another school opened in 1816 where the first academy was founded. The story of Loretto schools could fill a book and more, and does! In state after state the Sisters were invited to open academies that offered a broad liberal arts curriculum. Two of these academies, Webster College in St. Louis and Loretto Heights in Denver, evolved into standard senior colleges for women.
“I Am the Way,” Loretto’s Constitutions, #37, reads, “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.”
By 1964, in addition to operating two colleges, Loretto had opened 18 high schools, 73 elementary schools, a school for exceptional children, a pre-kindergarten and a school for Indian girls in Oklahoma, and three mission schools in Latin America and Hanyang, China. Much of Loretto’s mission work now is an outgrowth of the initial charism of education that the early members envisioned. The charism of Loretto in education continues today in a multitude of ways “in the spirit of Jesus.”
This week we highlight two of Loretto’s educational treasures, Webster College, now Webster University, and the former Loretto Heights College. The Sisters of Loretto founded Loretto (Webster) College in 1915 and operated the school until 1967, when ownership was transferred to a lay board. Today, Annie Stevens SL carries on Loretto’s tradition of teaching at Webster University, where she has served as adjunct professor of religious studies since 2005. Loretto Sister Barbara Ann Barbato, who taught history at Webster for more than 40 years, continues in her role there as professor emeritus.
Loretto Heights College, which began as Loretto Heights Academy, a Catholic elementary and secondary school for girls, was founded by Loretto in 1891 in Denver. Since its closing in 1988, the Heights has gone through numerous transitions. Today, it is on the brink of yet another incarnation: a mixed-use residential and commercial development. The spirit of Loretto lives on at the former college site in the historic structures being retained and repurposed, in new street names to be designated in honor of Loretto and on the sacred ground of Loretto Heights Cemetery, which remains a part of the Loretto Heights campus.
Be sure to visit Loretto’s Facebook page this week, where we will focus on the creation and growth of Webster College (University) and Loretto Heights College. We invite all Loretto alums, in particular, to walk with us again in their love for their alma maters. Education by its very nature changes lives. Historically, Loretto has been in the vanguard of providing classroom education from its very beginning. Loretto has given many students, from Kentucky to the Southwest to China to South America, a future full of hope. We continue to offer that same gift today.