Lucia Perea: Spotlight on a New Mexican Sister
Did you know that September 15th through October 15th is Hispanic Heritage month? This annual celebration began in 1968 as “Hispanic Heritage Week” and was later extended to a month in 1988. I’m taking the opportunity to reflect on the Hispanic Sisters of Loretto and one Sister in particular, Sr. Lucia Perea (1843-1918).
As you may already know, four Sisters of Loretto arrived in Santa Fe from Kentucky in 1852. In January of the next year, they established Our Lady of Light Academy, the first school for young women in the Territory of New Mexico. Dolores Perea (Sr. Lucia Perea) was an early student of the Academy. She was born April 5, 1843, in Bernalillo County, NM. She went to several private schools before becoming a student at Our Lady of Light. Dolores joined the order in Santa Fe in 1859 and became Sr. Lucia. After she entered the order, she studied grammar, history, physics, physiology, bookkeeping, mathematics, art, French, and German. She also took lessons on the harp and violin. She spoke at least four different languages, and she was a very talented musician. Sr. Lucia started her teaching career at Our Lady of Light and taught many of the subjects that she studied, but her principal field was music. Soon after she entered the order, she became one of Mother Magdalen Hayden’s counselors in Santa Fe and remained so for many years. After Mother Magdalen’s death, Sr. Lucia continued to be a counselor under Mother Francisca Lamy. In 1878, Sr. Lucia was appointed the Director of Studies and Mistress of Novices in Santa Fe.
In 1896, Sr. Lucia was appointed Superior of Our Lady of Light. She was the first native-born New Mexican Superior of the school. She was the Superior of the school for eleven years. Our Lady of Light progressed nicely under her management. Her family was also very interested in educating the native born children of New Mexico. Her uncle Don Jose Perea wanted the Sisters of Loretto to offer education in Bernalillo, NM, because the population was poor and they couldn’t afford to send their daughters all the way to Santa Fe. His request included a promise to build a ten-room adobe house for the Sisters if they would agree to build a school. The Sisters told him if he built it, they would honor his request. In 1875, he and his wife donated a two-acre lot in Bernalillo, on which was an adobe house, to Loretto. The house served as a convent and a school house for the girls in the area. In later years, Sr. Lucia’s inheritance assisted in buying a piece of ground in Las Vegas, NM; a harp for the chapel in Santa Fe; mules; and a carriage for the community. The Sisters were also able to build on to the convent, and Sr. Lucia’s inheritance supplied the community with clothing for several years.
Sr. Lucia lived in New Mexico for most of her life. When she retired from teaching, there was newspaper article about her retirement and how much she would be missed. There is a historical marker in Santa Fe that honors Sr. Lucia Perea. It’s a display of gratitude and appreciation for her contribution as New Mexico’s first leading Hispanic female educator.