This blog post was adapted from "A Bridge to the Future", a piece of reader's theater originally written for the 2017 Loretto General Assembly by the civil incorporation committee.
Loretto has never been known to stand still. We are a community who listens, who follows the Spirit, and who trusts one another deeply. Large leaps and modest steps have characterized our story from the very beginning. In times of uncertainty and in times of great change, we have relied on one another to find a path to the future together. As PJ Manion wrote in A Century of Change, "Change is seldom easy, but not to change risks losing the chance to grow."
We are a Community who trusts one another.
From our inception, we have practiced this deep trust. In 1812, Father Nerinckx suggested that our new community might benefit from Belgian sisters who could help start the "society," yet Christina, Mary, and Ann declined. They had the vision and all the help they needed.
Our earliest teachers lived with hardship but with complete reliance on Providence. They also opened their doors to all students, welcoming everyone regardless of faith tradition. Father Nerinckx wrote, "No Denomination is refused, if willing to observe the Rules of the School-the other Denominations will not be forced on Sunday & Holy Days to go to the Chapel & perform our Christian duties, but they must suffer to be friendly, invited-in the School they are to be present at every exercise & to behave, if not in a Religious, at least in a Civil Manner."
We stand on the shoulders of women who looked beyond the norms of their day to stand firm in their convictions. With the persistence and foresight of Mother Praxedes early in the 20th century, the Loretto Society became a papal congregation with an approved rule and constitutions. Despite opposition from the bishop of Louisville and after a conflict that resulted in his imposing an interdict on the Motherhouse community, Praxedes steadfastly persevered so that formal approval of the rule finally came in December of 1907.
We are a Community who holds fast to our resolve.
When faced with needs in far-flung areas, our early sisters left their homeland to travel into an unknown and hard to imagine future. From Kentucky, we traveled by riverboat to Missouri and then to Kansas to work with the Osage. In 1852, we traveled by steamboat and by Dearborn wagon to the Territory of New Mexico. The journey was fraught with sickness, fright, and death. But the adventure was an enduring one, resulting in our pivotal mission in Santa Fe. From Santa Fe, sisters traveled to Denver where they founded St. Mary's Academy and Loretto Heights College. And as recently as 2006, the community embarked once again on a new and uncharted mission, forming Loretto in Pakistan. Much like Christina, Mary, and Ann, three young Pakistani women answered the call to join the community and to continue their work of social justice and education in their homeland as Loretto members.
We are a community who does not turn back!
Our dedication to education continued throughout the decades. We conceived of and built high schools as well as colleges in Kansas City, St. Louis, Denver, and El Paso. Loretto Heights and Webster College were immense and forward-looking undertakings that stood for years as beacons of Loretto's capacity to lead and move forward into uncharted waters. Having had at the Motherhouse a Normal School to prepare sisters for teaching and then Loretto Junior College to start novices on their college education, Loretto in the mid-1950s opened the House of Studies in St. Louis. This insured that all sisters sent out to teach had their bachelor degrees.
We are a Community who takes bold steps into an unknown future.
In a great leap into the unknown, in 1922 Loretto agreed to open a mission in China. Ninety-eight sisters volunteered! Six were chosen for this new mission. The mission withstood poverty and Chinese government harassment until all but the one Chinese sister returned to the U.S.
In the 1950s, Sisters of Loretto marched with other sisters alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Alabama to demonstrate for voting rights. This was a dangerous time, but the call was an imperative one.
In 1976, Loretto Community members participated in a "Third World Experience" in order to learn first-hand about cultures and customs different from those familiar to us. As Marian McAvoy wrote in A Century of Change, we were "mindful of the need for Loretto members to develop a broader and more appreciative attitude toward people and cultures different from our own." All of Loretto learned from these experiences, and the effects remain to this day.
In 1969, Loretto had affirmed the importance of the tradition of "personal conscience" to back an action of civil disobedience that caused much eyebrow raising, publicity, and some loss of students at Nerinx Hall High School. Later, Sister Joann Malone was incarcerated for following her conscience and protesting the Vietnam War. Loretto stood with Sister Joann and continued to proclaim the importance of "person over institution."
Loretto made an unusual and courageous move in 1981 as we filed suit as shareholders of record against the Blue Diamond Coal Company for its environmental, labor, and safety practices. This prompted outcries that the sisters "should go back and mind their church." But we refused to stand quietly in the face of injustice, and Blue Diamond was forced to settle.
We are a Community who responds to the evolving needs of the times.
Within our community we have seen much evolution over the last century. Ever open to new ideas and seeing hope as an open door, Mary Luke Tobin guided us through the changes arising from the Second Vatican Council. Luke always seemed to be a step ahead of innovations in the church and the world. She and Helen Sanders translated many publications from French to send to the community members for study and, more importantly, for discussion.
At the 1970 General Assembly, Loretto trail-blazed yet again by creating co-membership. The Assembly proposal read, in part: "That the Loretto community consist of professed members, the Congregation of Sisters of Loretto, … and co-members." In December of 1970, three women who had been congregational members became the first Loretto Co-members.
Of great importance to the Loretto Community was the formation of Community Groups, "the basic structural units which enable us to strengthen the bonds of community and to contribute appropriately on issues of government and mission." Growing from a government study, Community Groups began in the 1990s and continue robustly today. All community members participate as another act of faith and generosity.
We are a Community who listens and responds.
Many other momentous events have marked Loretto's ability to avoid standing still and to march out to often-untested ground with faith and confidence in the future. This faith and confidence in the future arises from our trust in one another, our trust in the Spirit, and our firm foundation in all those who have come before us.
What will Loretto look like in another 200 years? What new bold actions will we need to take to get there?
"Change is seldom easy, but not to change risks losing the chance to grow."
We are a community who faces risks and walks into unknown futures with trust, openness, and vision.