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What’s in a Date?

Posted on October 1, 2021, by Eleanor Craig SL

August 15, September 8 and 15, October 25, December 8, April 25, May 24, May 31. What do these dates have in common? By the zodiac, they loosely demark the seasons of the year:  summer, fall, winter, spring. By the Catholic church calendar, almost all are feast days honoring the Virgin Mary. By the cycles of Loretto lives, they mark times of beginning, decision, and celebration. It’s been that way for two centuries.

Our first Sisters—Mary Rhodes, Christina Stuart, and Ann Havern—began what we would call their novitiate on April 25, 1812. The summer of 1812, the nascent community received Mary’s sister Ann, Ann Havern’s sister Sarah, and Nellie Morgan into their tiny group. Five of them made their first and only vows on August 15, 1813, in the log church of St. Charles. (Ann Rhodes had died in December, making her vows on her deathbed.)

Was August 15 a feast of Mary in 1813? Is that why it was chosen as the day for the dedication of vows? The Loretto Heritage Center has one of the ritual books for Mass from those times. On two highly illustrated pages dated August 15 are the prayers and rituals celebrating the Assumption of Mary into Heaven. The first Loretto sisters were purposeful in choosing a Marian feast as the day to publicly declare their personal dedication. 

Two pages of an antique book displaying biblical images and text.
One of Father Charles Nerinckx’s Missals, printed in Antwerp, Belgium, in 1737.
Photo courtesy of Loretto Archives.

We know that Reverend Charles Nerinckx guided the Loretto women to dedicate themselves to Jesus’ suffering and Mary’s sorrowing. Nerinckx himself composed Loretto’s earliest prayer and penned it onto the first page of the first rule, “O Suffering Jesus! O Sorrowful Mary!” And as soon as the Sisters’ housing was ready at Little Loretto, Nerinckx placed his own statue of Mary in the Sisters’ chapel—the one he brought with him to Kentucky in 1805, the very statue which stands in the Blessed Sacrament chapel at Loretto Motherhouse today.

Statue of St. Mary holding Jesus as a small child
Statue of Our Lady and Child, brought from Europe by Father Charles Nerinckx in 1807. Nerinckx referred to it as “my statue” and had it in his own dwelling in Kentucky before bringing it to Little Loretto in 1812.
Photo courtesy of Loretto Archives.

December 8, the Feast of Mary’s Immaculate Conception, has traditionally been another day for Loretto celebrations and dedications, particularly pronouncing vows. Days when women presented themselves to Loretto for admittance included September 8, celebrating the Holy Name of Mary, and September 15, commemorating Mary’s Seven Sorrows. April 25 was Loretto’s day of beginning in 1812, and October 25 is just six months later. Neither is a Marian feast day. However, April 25 was a “rogation day,” an observance of the spring planting, when communities of Catholics prayed for abundant harvest, and October 25, during the harvest season, celebrated devotion to Mary through her special prayer, the Rosary. Both April 25 and October 25 have been days when women across two centuries have begun their lives as Friends of Mary at the Foot of the Cross.

Eleanor Craig SL

Eleanor Craig SL

Eleanor has been a Sister of Loretto since 1963 and an educator since birth. She graduated from two of Loretto's best known St. Louis institutions, Nerinx Hall High School in 1960, and Webster University in 1967. She taught mathematics at Loretto in Kansas City, where her personal passion for adventure history inspired her to develop and lead treks along the historic Oregon Trail. From 1998 to 2010 she created an award-winning program of outdoor adventure along the Western trails for teens who are visually impaired. Eleanor claims to have conducted more wagon trains to the West than the Mountain Men! From 2012 to 2021, Eleanor led a talented staff of archivists and preservationists at the Loretto Heritage Center on the grounds of the Motherhouse. She recently retired, but still serves in the Heritage Center as Loretto Community Historian.
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