Home » Features » “Related to Many in the Society”

“Related to Many in the Society”

Posted on April 6, 2023, by Susanna Pyatt

A note in Sr. Matilda Drury’s file mentions that she was “related to many in the Society and in the priesthood.” Like the Bowling family highlighted in January’s LOREtto post, “related to many” has a larger meaning than the typical blood relations occasionally found among Sisters of Loretto. Sr. Matilda’s Loretto family tree has its roots with Richard Raymond Coomes (1768-1856) and his wife Mary Livers Coomes (1783-1859). They were both part of the Maryland to Kentucky Catholic migration in the late 18th century. Though not quite as prolific as the Thomas Bowling family, the Coomes descendants include 14 Sisters of Loretto and one chaplain at Loretto.

Family tree of Richard Raymond Coomes and Mary Livers Coomes
The descendants of Richard Raymond Coomes and Mary Livers Coomes, highlighting Sisters of Loretto and Loretto clergy in green. Note: Family relationships were traced using records from only FindAGrave.com and the Loretto Heritage Center, so there may be additional children in each family branch that are not mentioned in these records. Not all known descendants have their marriages and children shown on this family tree.

As is the case with many early Sisters of Loretto, we do not have much on record about Richard and Mary’s two daughters who joined the order. Matilda and Mary Coomes (Srs. Ursula and Modesta, respectively) took their vows during Loretto’s first decade. However, they both eventually left the congregation. Matilda was a Sister for close to 20 years: she is mentioned in records c. 1819 and as leaving in 1837. All we know about Mary is that she left at some point before the 1858 Motherhouse fire.

Next, two of Richard and Mary’s granddaughters joined Loretto. Sr. Matilda Drury (1826-1911) grew up in Nelson County, KY, and attended Loretto’s school in Fairfield for its final year in 1838. She was assigned as a teacher and Infirmarian at Loretto houses in Kentucky, as well as at St. Mary’s College in Marion County and Preston Park Seminary in Louisville. Sr. Ida Coomes (1862-1909) also grew up in the Kentucky Holy Land, boarding at Loretto Academy in Nerinx for part of her education. She went on to teach at Loretto schools in Missouri, Kentucky, and Alabama.

One of Richard and Mary’s grandsons was Rev. Edwin Drury (1845-1913), a priest who was educated for the clergy in the Kentucky Holy Land and served for many years in Marion County and other rural parts of the Diocese of Louisville. Drury was appointed as chaplain at the Loretto Motherhouse from 1906 to 1913, and he is buried in the Motherhouse cemetery. Several other priests pepper the Coomes family tree, including another Kentucky pastor, Rev. Celestine Brey.

Archival photo of two women in dresses and aprons and two men in hats standing in front of a wooden house.
(From left to right) Teresa Rose Drury Brey, Agnes Brey (Sr. Delphine, SL), Rev. Celestine Brey, and James William Brey at their home Sugar Dale in Daviess County, KY, before James built a brick house.
Image from the Loretto Heritage Center collections.

Continuing down the family tree, three great-granddaughters of Richard and Mary joined Loretto, as well as six great-great-granddaughters and one great-great-great-granddaughter. Much of Richard and Mary’s family moved from the Kentucky Holy Land region to Daviess County, KY. Most of their descendants who became Sisters of Loretto completed their schooling at Loretto’s Bethlehem Academy in Hardin County, KY. Several generations of these Sisters grew up in the same home, a brick farmhouse built by James William Brey and inherited by his daughter Matilda and son-in-law Searles Dosier Barrett after James, his wife, and one of his sons all passed away from pneumonia in February 1901.

Certain details about some of these descendants stick out when reading through their personnel files. For example, Srs. Angela Brey and Delphine Brey kept up a correspondence with their brother Celestine that preserves the story of their family’s tragedies that continued throughout the spring of 1901. Sr. Angela, who died of “pernicious anemia” at a fairly young age, was an extensive poetry writer despite her poor health. Sr. Matilda Barrett was a Loretto historian and archivist. Her editorial work on the memoirs of Fr. William Howlett earned her the first Cardinal Spellman Award from the U.S. Catholic Historical Society. Meanwhile, Sr. Rosemary Howard taught in Shanghai, China, for 14 years. During World War Two, she was interned with other Sisters of Loretto and Women Religious in the Sacred Heart Convent of Shanghai.

Archival sepia photo of two young women posing for a photo - one sitting, one standing.
Blood sisters Francisca Brey (left; Sr. Angela) and Agnes Brey (Sr. Delphine) before they entered the Sisters of Loretto.
Image from the Loretto Heritage Center collections.
Archival photo of two nuns in habits looking over a sheet of paper they've pulled from a typewriter. A file cabinet drawer stands open.
Sr. Matilda Barrett (right) in the Loretto archives, 1961.
Image from the Loretto Heritage Center collections.

Like the Bowlings, the descendants of this family have been part of Loretto for practically its entire history. They are another example of the longevity of the Catholic faith and traditions as Anglo American Catholics migrated from Maryland to the Kentucky Holy Land and areas further west, sustained in part by Loretto’s schools whose students included many women who found their vocations among the congregation.

The 14 descendants listed by the date they entered the Sisters of Loretto:

  • 1818 former Sr. Ursula Coomes (b. c. 1801)
  • c. 1822 former Sr. Modesta Coomes (b. c. 1805)
  • 1852 Sr. Matilda Drury (1826-1911)
  • 1883 Sr. Ida Coomes (1862-1909)
  • 1891 Sr. Angela Brey (1871-1925)
  • 1894 Sr. Severian Coomes (1876-1933)
  • 1897 Sr. Delphine Brey (1874-1939)
  • 1912 Sr. Matilda Barrett (1892-1968)
  • 1913 Sr. Edwin Hamilton (1891-1974)
  • 1914 Sr. Celestinita Howard (1888-1961)
  • 1921 Sr. Rosemary Howard (1901-1983)
  • 1923 Sr. Bernarda Barrett (1900-1977)
  • 1926 Sr. Rose Mulhall (1904-1999)
  • 1950 Sr. Ann Barrett (1929-2021)

Note: There are additional Sisters of Loretto with the last names Coomes and Drury; it is possible that more family connections may eventually be revealed.

Three-by-three collage of nine nuns, eight of which are in habits. The most recent photo is the woman in the lower right corner who is not in a habit and is in color.
All of the Sisters of Loretto descended from Richard and Mary Coomes for whom the Loretto Heritage Center Archives has photographs.

Susanna Pyatt

Susanna Pyatt is the director of the Loretto Heritage Center. A graduate of Western Kentucky University's Folk Studies program, she geeks out over American communal societies, historic buildings, and the artifacts of daily life.
Cupola Cross 2-Icon

Loretto welcomes you

Learn more or plan a visit to the Motherhouse!

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Cupola Cross 2-Icon

Loretto welcomes you

Learn more or plan a visit to the Motherhouse!