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Twelve Days of Christmas, from the Loretto Heritage Center

Posted on January 7, 2020, by Loretto Community

In honor of the twelve days leading to Epiphany, the Heritage Center posted photos tied to the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” on our Facebook page. Visitors checked back each day to see what new stories we had to share. There was such an outpouring of positive response that we decided to post a recap to our blog for those not on Facebook.

Happy holidays from the Heritage Center staff!

Residents of the Motherhouse Infirmary and Loretto staff around a Christmas tree in the Heritage Center
Residents of the infirmary and Loretto staff enjoyed carols and Christmas cheer in the Heritage Center Museum

“On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me a partridge in a pear tree.”

This nuthatch bird was carved by Sister Joan Van Leeuwen (1933-2010). Sister Joan took up woodcarving in the 1990s. According to one biography of her, it became “a way of sharing her talent and appreciation of nature’s beauty with others.”

“On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me two turtle doves.”

Turtles basking at the foot of Mary

Peg Jacobs captured this moment when some resident turtles stopped to bask in the sun with our Holy Mother Mary. This statue stands in Mary’s Lake on the Motherhouse property in Loretto, KY. The lake was constructed in 1926, with the statue completing the project in 1927.

Historic Photo of Mary's Lake from 1927

“On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me three French hens.”

Historic photo of chickens at the Motherhouse

Did you know that the Loretto Motherhouse has a working farm? Historically, the Sisters have raised chickens and cows, cultivated plants in green houses, and grown a variety of crops. This photo shows a poultry house in 1927.

“On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me four calling birds.”

Chinese-style shadowbox

Unfortunately, we don’t know much about this lovely shadowbox. We suspect it came from China. The Sisters of Loretto operated two schools in China in the 1920s through the early 1950s: St. Columban Embroidery School in Hanyang and Loretto School in Shanghai. It’s possible that a Sister on a visit to the Chinese missions brought this shadowbox back home with her as a gift or a souvenir.

“On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me five golden rings.”

Napkin ring owned by a Sister of Loretto

Napkin rings are a common item we have from individual Sisters! This one belonged to Sister Carolyn Ann Wheat (1921-2016). She grew up in Louisville, KY, and attended Loretto High School before joining the congregation and becoming a teacher and school administrator. Napkin rings were a suggested gift for young Lorettos, and this one may have been given to Sister Carolyn Ann by her family when she took her first vows in 1942.

“On the sixth day of Christmas my true love gave to me six geese-a-laying.”

Painted Egg in a display care

This colorfully painted egg came to the Heritage Center from Sister Elaine Satterwhite (1934-2018). Sister Elaine was a wonderful organist. She was a college music teacher for decades. She traveled to South Africa twice, studying apartheid and South African music, then taught at the University of Fort Hare for a year after her retirement in 2000.

“On the seventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me seven swans-a-swimming.”

Display of strings of origami cranes

Loretto has been active in peace and nuclear disarmament efforts for decades. Often the symbol of a crane is used for peace/disarmament protests and education, invoking the story of Sadako and the 1000 origami cranes she began folding as she battled leukemia caused by nuclear bomb radiation. The arrangement of cranes pictured below was created by a Japanese protest group and given by them to Lorettines at a demonstration both groups attended.

“On the eighth day of Christmas my true love gave to me eight maids-a-milking.”

Historic photo of a barn and cows at the Motherhouse

The Sisters have been raising livestock on this land since they moved from Little Loretto to St. Stephen’s Farm in 1824. Today we still have a herd of cattle, managed by our trusty farm dog, Rascal! Check out his happenings on their Facebook page.

“On the ninth day of Christmas my true love gave to me nine ladies dancing.”

Three female students pose before their dance recital

Loretto schools taught more than just reading, writing, and arithmetic. The arts were an important part of the curriculum in every school through music lessons, embroidery, art classes, and theatrical productions. In this picture, three students of Loretto Academy Kansas City, MO pose before their ballet recital in the 1938-1939 school year.

“On the tenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me ten lords-a-leaping.”

Two boys in basketball uniforms prepare to jump for a ball when the Sister tosses it

While most Sisters are remembered for their lessons in music and English, Sisters taught every subject, including physical education! In this shot, Sister Valerie prepares a tip off between two students at Blessed Sacrament in Denver, CO.

“On the eleventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me eleven pipers piping.”

Wooden carving of Kokopelli playing a flute

This is another carving by Sister Joan Van Leeuwen. Though Sister Joan was born in St. Paul, KS, she served in Colorado for the final three decades of her life. When she took up woodcarving in the 1990s, she drew inspiration for some of her pieces, like this flute-playing Kokopelli, from the cultures of the American Southwest.

“On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me twelve drummers drumming.”

Historic photo of students in the Holy Cross Rhythmic Orchestra in Las Cruces, NM in 1933

Music has been an important part of Loretto education since the early days of the order. These students are part of a Rhythmic Orchestra in Las Cruces, New Mexico at Holy Cross in 1933.

Happy Epiphany and thank you for celebrating the 12 days of Christmas with us!

All photos courtesy of the Loretto Heritage Center staff.

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Loretto welcomes you

Learn more or plan a visit to the Motherhouse!