Remembrance of the Life of Sister Mary Frances (formerly Sister Margaret Mary) Lottes SL
Mary Frances Lottes was born into what she describes as “a secure and happy life in a large family during the Depression years.” She was the fourth child of Arthur and Roberta Lottes, with Helen, Arthur, and Richard before her and Marge, Paul and Robert after her. Her father was born in St. Mary, Mo., not far from Loretto’s earliest Missouri foundation. Her mother was Roberta Murray from Moberly, where Loretto sisters had taught since 1877. Mary Fran attended St. Rose Parochial School in St. Louis, a Loretto school, and won a scholarship to Loretto’s high school, Nerinx Hall, from which she graduated in 1941 after “four very happy years.” She went on to Webster College. But after her first year, her brother, Art, who had been working in their father’s office, went off to the war. Their father asked Mary Fran to leave college and take her brother’s place at the office, “which I was glad to do.”
Four years later, at the end of the war, Mary Frances wrote to Mother Edwarda requesting admission to the Loretto novitiate. In her July 1945 letter she said, “When I told Dad of my plans to become a nun, he asked me not to leave until Art returned … [which] may be possible this fall. … I want more than anything else to do God’s will. One of the purposes of this letter is to convince myself that I am not delaying unnecessarily.. … [I have had] recent frequent doubts as to whether I could serve God best in a teaching order or not. I have decided I would still like to mail this to you as a sort of an anchor.” Later she wrote, “I am still praying for Divine Guidance, though now I feel pretty certain that it is in Loretto that God wants me. I have placed the matter entirely in His hands, and I know that when the time comes there won’t be any doubt.”
Mary Fran arrived at Loretto Feb. 15, 1946, with four other Webster students, including Rosalie Brennan (Sister Mary Roger) and Ann Rita Willard (Sister Ann Madeleine). They were received on Aug. 15, 1946, and Mary Fran became Sister Margaret Mary, a name she used only five years. In 1951, as a gift to her father, she asked to return to her baptismal name and was Sister Mary Frances Lottes for the rest of her life.
After her first vows on Aug. 15, 1948, Mary Fran was sent to Holy Family grade school in Denver. Three years she and Mary Ken Lewis helped to open St. Joseph School in Rawlins, Wyo., in what she called “a broadening and challenging experience.” She was at Rawlins only two years when, she said, “I went from teaching primary [grades] which I had grown to love, to teaching high school Latin and religion” – a four-year assignment at St. Mary’s in Englewood, Colo. During these years, Mary Fran completed her undergraduate degree in English at Loretto Heights College.
In 1957 Mary Fran and Ann White (Siste. Ann Richard) took a boat to Europe and enrolled at Regina Mundi Pontifical Institute in Rome, a newly established graduate program for women religious. Mary Fran wrote wonderfully descriptive letters to Reverend Mother Edwarda and then Reverend Mother Luke about her course work and extracurricular education in Italy and on a visit to the Holy Land. While in Rome she and Ann White were present for the election of Pope John XXIII and for his coronation. Both returned to the states in 1960 with a Magisterium in Scientiis Sacris — a master’s degree in theology. She was sent to Webster College to teach theology; in 1963-64 she also served as Dean of Studies. Over the next two decades Mary Fran would study Scripture, process theology, feminist theology, liberation theology and ecumenism, all fields inspired by the renewal of the Vatican II era.
“Another great broadening,” Mary Fran said, occurred when she was elected to the General Council of the Congregation in 1964 and served for six years in Mary Luke Tobin’s second term. Mary Fran called this “a time of great changes” as her duties involved her in directing the change of habit, with its attendant travels to every Loretto house. She admitted that she suffered “meeting the opposition and the suffering of others.” At the same time, this was “a great time of personal integration [and a growing] love for Loretto and for nature.” During and after her time on the Council, Mary Fran also taught at Bellarmine College and in the Permanent Diaconate Program, both in the Louisville Archdiocese. She served on the Liturgical Commission and was a full-time consultant for parish workshops also in Louisville. From 1978 to 1982, she served as Coordinator of Life Development in Marian McAvoy’s administration, and continued into Marian’s second term in various roles. Mary Fran loved “growing young with the novices with whom I worked” during the 1960s in the traditional novitiate and the ’70s when the novitiate was much more individualized. Her personnel file contains a number of scholarly essays and papers which she prepared for Loretto about our heritage, our spiritual development, and our constitutions and canon law.
On a resume prepared for a job application at St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City in 1986, Mary Fran wrote, “I am qualified to teach in the following areas: Liberation Theology, Feminist Theology, Christology, Liturgy. In addition to the teaching of Liberation Theology at St. Thomas Seminary [Denver], each year I give many lectures, discussion sessions, workshops in Liberation Theology to study groups, adult church groups —Methodist, Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian — and to groups of Catholic sisters, etc.” Mary Fran was appointed visiting lecturer for one year at St. Paul’s then moved on to Santa Fe where, following a year of study and reflection, she joined Sylvia Sedillo, Penny McMullin, Pauline Albin and others in founding and staffing the Women’s Spiritual Center. This was Mary Fran’s final full-time work, from 1989 to 1994, a work that combined in the most organic way her knowledge and experience of theology, adult religious education, women’s spiritual development and one-on-one counseling.
After 1994, Mary Fran described herself as doing “freelance retreat work and spiritual guidance” from a base at Loretto Motherhouse. She did basic education and counseling at the women’s prison near the Motherhouse. Mary Fran and Mary Swain maintained residence on the second floor of the novitiate building, offering warm hospitality to visitors and Motherhouse residents alike.
This account of Mary Fran Lottes’ scholarly training and professional work fails to evoke the warmth and compassion that shone in her eyes, sounded in her soft voice and lit her face with an ever-present welcoming smile. But this remembrance does help us appreciate how far beyond Loretto, many have been enriched, encouraged and inspired by our Sister Mary Fran’s gifts. It may help her family, nieces and nephews, to know Mary Fran as a woman of wide-and-deep-reaching influence. And it certainly helps us all see in practical terms the fruits of Mary Fran’s deepest desire, “more than anything else I want to do God’s will.” Divine Guidance, into whose hands Mary Fran placed each of her 74 years as a Sister of Loretto, has made blessedly clear that she was indeed intended for Loretto, and Loretto for her.