What’s in a Date?
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.
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.
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.