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Running Off to the Convent, Part Two

Posted on May 20, 2020, by Loretto Heritage Center

By Susanna Pyatt

As Jewel, Pearl, and Ruby Rogers completed their education at Loretto Academy, their secret plans conflicted with the intentions of their father. Frank wanted his daughters to open a music school. The eldest three sisters, however, planned to be baptized in the Catholic Church and join the Sisters of Loretto, plans which they often found stymied by conflict at home and practical considerations. Their spiritual counselors from the Academy were loathe to go against the Rogers parents, and the sisters’ planned baptism was postponed even once they had prepared for the event by sneaking white garments piece by piece to the school. The priest decided that they could not be baptized until they left home, since they would not be able to regularly attend Mass until they lived independently of their parents. Meanwhile, the sisters were told that they would have to be baptized Catholics for three years before they would be allowed to enter Loretto as postulants.

Each sister ended up finding her own way to Loretto, bravely making the long journey from Colorado to a distant Loretto house on her own. In April 1911, Pearl was the first to be baptized, having found work away from home as a schoolteacher in remote communities in the Colorado mountains. She sent part of her income back to Jewel and Ruby to provide funds for them to travel to Loretto in Kansas City, where the congregation would help them as they continued the process of conversion.

Loretto Academy in Kansas City, MO, c. 1915

Meanwhile, one of Jewel’s former teachers wrote to her from Kansas City, offering “something to do” there so that she could leave home. Frank refused to consent to Jewel going and had her write back with a refusal of the offer. Jewel eventually determined to go anyway, though she feared violent reprisal from her father if he discovered her plans. At the end of October 1911, aided by funds from Pearl, Jewel prepared to go to Kansas City and was baptized in Pueblo’s St. Ignatius Church. “My soul felt as if it instantly burst its fetters and expanded,” she later wrote, remembering the moment of baptism. “As the water continued running my soul continued to expand up, up, until it seemed to reach the very throne of God and united with Him. At that moment a great peace and happiness flooded my heart.” After her baptism, Jewel set off on the long train trip to Kansas City and was joyfully received at the Academy by her former teacher.

Sister Benedicta Rogers (second from right) at St. Louis School, Pawhuska, Oklahoma, 1938

Finally, it was Ruby’s turn to leave home. Though her father forbade Ruby to communicate with Jewel, Drake was able to secretly pass along letters sent through the local priest. After much prayer, and having received indirect approval from her mother, Ruby also arranged to be baptized and make her way to Kansas City. One day in mid-December 1911, she finished her housework, packed her belongings into an old skirt she pinned together as a suitcase, and headed to the train station, saying good-bye to her parents in a postcard she mailed while waiting for the train.

Ruby joined Jewel at Loretto Academy in Kansas City, where both sisters were thrilled to finally be able to fully and openly practice their Catholic faith. Pearl rejoiced at their safely reaching Kansas City. In a letter to her angry father, she defended her sisters and took responsibility for their actions, effectively barring herself from being able to return home. The sisters received word that they could apply for entrance to Loretto without having to wait the three years, so Jewel and Ruby set off for the Motherhouse in Kentucky. Once Pearl finished her session as schoolmistress, she likewise set off for Kentucky. The three sisters received their habits and took first and then final vows all on the same days as each other, becoming full Sisters of Loretto on August 15, 1918.

We have only the most basic outlines of the sisters’ lives after they entered Loretto. Each one went on to teach after they completed their novitiate. Sister Elvira was first assigned to Moberly, Missouri, and from there taught primarily in the Southwest. She retired to Nazareth Hall in El Paso in the summer of 1952 and died soon after. Sister Benedicta began her teaching career at schools in Kentucky, then moved between Illinois, Oklahoma, and Missouri before her death in 1938. Sister Casilda’s first assignment was to Rockford, Illinois. She then served for almost twenty years in Pawhuska, Oklahoma (Benedicta was also there for some of those years). Casilda next taught in Ohio, Kentucky, New Mexico, and Colorado. She retired to El Paso in 1971 and passed away in 1974.

I will conclude this overview of the Rogers sisters’ lives with the final line of Sister Casilda’s narrative: “If ever I have the opportunity of speaking to one whose life is like that I have just spent, I will encourage her to persevere, for the end is worth it all.”

Sister Casilda Rogers (second from left) at Pawhuska, Oklahoma

Postscript: What about the rest of the Rogers family? Census records tell us that the three brothers all married and had families. Frank Jr. moved to Oregon, while the Rogers parents, George, and Drake eventually moved their respective households to the Kansas City area. Emerald and Diamond never married. Frank Sr. likely died between 1930 and 1940, as the two youngest siblings formed a household with only their mother in 1940. At some point, it appears that Drake and Diamond each moved to Oklahoma. When Emerald – the last surviving sibling – died in Kansas in 1989, she was buried near her sister Diamond in a Boise City, Oklahoma, cemetery.


Loretto Heritage Center

The Loretto Heritage Center includes both an Archive and a Museum where the 200-year history of the Sisters of Loretto and the 40-year history of the Loretto Community are documented in paper, artifacts and richly interpretive exhibits. Its knowledgeable staff offer assistance and information to those wishing to learn more about Loretto and its history.
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