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Standing on the Shoulders of the Ones Who Came Before Us

Posted on May 24, 2022, by Mary Nelle Gage SL

A group of people holding flowers gather outside in prayer on a spring evening.
Gathered together for prayer and song, the Loretto Community and friends form a circle of love for the sisters buried at the Loretto Heights cemetery where the spirits of these early sisters lie quietly.
Photo by Lucy Ewing

On April 25 we gathered in the Loretto Heights cemetery in Denver to celebrate Loretto’s Foundatio Day and honor “the ones who came before us.” Attendees included several sisters of Loretto, co-members, St. Mary’s staff, Loretto Heights alumnae, neighbors and Westside Investment Partner, the current property owner. I read passages from scripture and Cathy Mueller recited “Some Thoughts about Settling: A Prose Poem” written by Cecily Jones in April 2012, our 200th anniversary. We see mentioned in Cecily’s poem our answer from Rev. Charles Nerinckx’s 1824 farewell letter to the Friends of Mary, “If you ask whether I know what will become of you, I answer that I cannot tell.”

Two women holding flowers stand at the foot of a large crucifix. A small stone cross is in the foreground and additional simple headstones are visible in the background.
Mary Nelle Gage and Cathy Mueller carry flowers for the graves.
Photo by Ruth Routten

From Cecily’s poem, we’ve gathered stories of our becoming. What has become of us? Like “old villagers near their stoves, trading tales, or quilters around their frames, musing with each stitch,” we become.

Mary, Christina, Ann and all the early band on Hardin’s Creek were kin of settlers here, but only kin; they spurned expected roles. No settling in for them.

We older ones, like in Cecily’s poem, learn around our stoves or quilting frames! We recall the end-of-year directive, “When you leave for summer school, be sure your trunk is packed.” No settling in.

Contented that the values we have cherished will remain with those who carry on our name, we know this land is not ours. We tend it, tread it lightly, cherishing its every tree and field of flowers and cherish those who rest upon this hill. But we are not settlers here or anywhere.

Lydia Peña SL looks up and smiles as she places flowers at a gravestone.
Lydia Peña, reminded of a good teacher, shares her happiness as she places flowers on a name from Loretto history.
Photo by Ruth Routten

As our communal response for Foundation Day, we read lyrics from Earth Mama’s song:

We are standing on the shoulders of the ones who came before us.
They are saints and they are humans, ….
They lift us higher than we could ever fly ….
I imagine our world if they hadn’t tried
We wouldn’t be here celebrating today.

STANDING ON THE SHOULDERS: Joyce Johnson Rouse ©1997 Rouse House Music (ASCAP). Used by permission.
All rights reserved. As recorded by Earth Mama® on Love Large and HerStory CDs www.EarthMama.org and www.StandingOnTheShoulders.org

In conclusion we prayed in unison, “O Suffering Jesus! O Sorrowful Mary! We give you glory, thanks, and praise. O bless our works and guide our ways.”

Lastly, we placed flowers on each of the 62 graves and at the foot of the cross.

A woman wearing a brimmed hat places a single flower on a grave marker.
All graves were decorated by those at the Loretto celebration — sisters, comembers and friends of Loretto. Here, Jeanne Orrben lays flowers on one of the 62 graves.
Photo by Ruth Routten.

Here are the lyrics to “Standing on the Shoulders.” A recording of the song is featured in the video below.


Mary Nelle Gage SL

Mary Nelle was raised in Texas and graduated from Loretto Heights College ('66) where she met the Sisters of Loretto. After entering Loretto in 1967, she taught English, speech and drama at St. Mary's Academy and Machebeuf High School. Mary Nelle joined Sister Susan Carol McDonald in Saigon, Vietnam, to care for orphans and to assist with their adoption. For 20 years she resettled refugees for several church agencies. For 30 years she has done customer service at American Airlines and does occasional marketing for EarthLinks. She is involved in the preservation and re-development of the LHC (Loretto Heights College) campus.
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