St. Mary’s and Loretto Heights Sisters Moved to Mt. Olivet Cemetery
M. Josefina Ortiz (1861-1896) was the first sister to be buried in the Loretto Heights Convent Cemetery, in Feb. 1896. Rita Therese DuBor (1909-1969) was the last to be buried, in 1969. Ten of the 62 sisters had been first buried in the Mt. Calvary section in the Denver city cemetery between 1870 and 1896. As part of Loretto’s Centennial Celebration in 1912, Mother Pancratia Bonfils had the 10 sisters moved from Mt. Calvary to the Loretto Heights Convent Cemetery.
In late 2016 when Teikyo Colorado Heights announced it would be closing the programs and selling the campus, then-Loretto President Pearl McGivney asked Ruth Routten and me to research the options for the perpetual care of the cemetery: how best to arrange ownership and perpetual care in place on the campus or exhume and re-bury the sisters at Mt. Olivet Catholic Cemetery where 21 Sisters of Loretto had been buried since late 1969.
After much prayerful deliberation, the decision was made to exhume and have all 83 Sisters of Loretto together in our plot at Mt. Olivet. “Operation Sacred Rescue” began June 20 with the leadership of Mt. Olivet and under the direction of archaeologists from the University of Colorado-Boulder and Metropolitan State University-Denver.
The exhuming process went in stages. A backhoe removed the top three feet of soil and then the garden shovels removed the next layers. As soon as contact was made with the coffin or an object was detected, the archaeologists began meticulous work with a small hand trowel, whisk broom and dustpan. The shoveled soil was placed in buckets and taken to the sifting tables, where tiny bone fragments and small rosary beads would be revealed and retained.
A few Loretto sisters and/or co-members and/or Spirit of Loretto LHC (Loretto Heights College) Alumnae members were present each day. We would read to those working in the grave a short biography of the sister who was being exhumed. The workers were delighted to learn something of the life of each sister: born in Ireland, a classics teacher, planted the trees on the campus, obtained advanced degrees, had been a telephone operator before entering Loretto. The archaeologists were especially interested in information about the cause of death and any health condition mentioned.
The Aug. 22 ceremony of honor and reburial was made possible through the generous contributions of many. The Neitenbach father and sons handcrafted the beautiful solid oak coffins. Sister Anndavid Naeger sent four gorgeous handmade shrouds for Frances Marie Walsh, Cecille Reddin, Vera Blum and Rita Therese DuBor. Knitting-crocheting-sewing church groups from Christ on the Mountain, St. Thomas More and Cherry Hills Community provided 30 white and some colorful shrouds. Pat Padilla of the Angel Bed Project sewed 28 white satin shrouds. Happy Canyon Flowers donated 150 white roses for the floral tribute for each sister as well as the two large altar arrangements for the Mass. Bishop Machebeuf and Holy Family high schools brought 30 students to serve as honorary pallbearers. Riedy Clark and her team prepared the photo boards featuring the sisters.
During the floral and musical tribute time, each guest was invited to place a rose on one or more of the coffins.
Father Marty Lally, Loretto co-member, and longtime Loretto Center Chaplain, Father Roland Freeman, concelebrated the Memorial Mass of the Queenship of the Blessed Mother with Denver Auxiliary Bishop Jorge Rodriguez. Lydia Peña and Cathy Mueller proclaimed the words from Isaiah and led us in prayer for the 62 sisters and all the deceased, for Loretto, for education in the church, and for our world.
At the conclusion of Mass, the pallbearers from Mt. Olivet staff and Machebeuf and Holy Family high schools escorted the coffins to the Loretto plot, close to the Gallagher Chapel. Regina Drey, Donna Hamburg and Spirit of Loretto LHC alumnae read the brief bio of each sister while she was escorted to her grave.
Fathers Marty and Roland led the Committal Service of blessing and prayer at the gravesite.