Loretto’s Past Comes to Life with “A Sisterhood on Fire”
By Sarah Hoeynck
Motherhouse in 2017, I listened to Eleanor Craig read the poem “Upon This Hill” by Cecily Jones. This powerful work and its obscure historical references inspired me to research the various fires at Little Loretto and the sisters’ move to St. Stephen’s Farm. That initial spark of interest roared into a literary blaze and became “A Sisterhood on Fire,” historical fiction chronicling the early history of Loretto.
It begins on the Kentucky frontier in 1821, where Catholic nuns Mary Rhodes, Isabella Clark and Helen Morton live in harmony in their vowed community. They have maintained the Loretto order and their independence by adhering strictly to a life of sacrifice. But when Father Nerinckx returns from Rome, he brings new papal edicts that threaten the Loretto way of life. Father Chabrat, another local priest, wants to initiate these changes to exert his control over the diocese and enforce the sisters’ obedience to the Church.
Mary, Isabella and Helen each face their own struggles against patriarchal influence. Mary’s desire for control and Isabella’s naive zeal clash with Chabrat’s power grabs, while Helen burns with frustration from her futile efforts to achieve equity for her enslaved students.
As a Loretto teacher, alumna and friend of the Community, I am so pleased to share the story of these courageous, pioneering women. The book’s release date is July 16, and I’m kicking off the launch with a reading at the Motherhouse Church on Monday, July 17. The reading will be live streamed via Zoom. The book will be sold in select stores and online through regular retail outlets for $15.95. You can also check my website to order from me or from various independent book stores in the Kentucky and St. Louis areas.