Celebration at former high school Sept. 22 was part of bicentennial of the Sisters of Loretto
The Sisters of Loretto continued a year-long celebration of their bicentennial with a special Mass and program at the site of the former Loretto High School on Saturday, Sept. 22. More than 300 people attended the event, which centered on Loretto’s presence in Louisville.
Those in attendance included Loretto Sisters, lay members and friends of the Loretto community, and alumnae of Loretto schools. They gathered for the program in the sanctuary of Christ Temple Apostolic Church, 723 S. 45th St., a building that once served as the gym at Loretto High School. The liturgy was celebrated by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz at the nearby Christ the King Church, 718 S. 44th St., where the Sisters of Loretto operated the parish school.
“For 170 years, we have been right here in Louisville in many, many settings,” said Sister of Loretto Barbara Nicholas, who led the program.
The sisters came to Louisville as educators 30 years after their founding. They established several schools, including Loretto High School and an academy in Portland known as Cedar Grove. They also staffed several Louisville-area parish schools, including St. Joseph School in Butchertown and St. Mary’s, Sacred Heart, St. Brigid, St. Benedict, Christ the King, St. Jerome and Guardian Angels schools. All of the schools are now closed.
Saturday’s program featured a multi-media presentation on this history and three speakers who described the sisters’ influence in Louisville.
The speakers included Maryknoll Sister Mary Grenough, a 1951 graduate of Loretto High School; Janet Jernigan, executive director of Just Solutions, a mediation organization that the Sisters of Loretto supported during its formation; Joseph Gliessner Jr., CEO of New Directions Housing Corp., a service organization started by St. William Church parishioners and funded, in part, by a $30,000 gift from the Sisters of Loretto.
Each speaker gave thanks to the Sisters of Loretto for their support and concern. They also described specifically the effect of the sisters’ efforts.
“The legacy that I see for the Sisters of Loretto in this community is the multiple generations of mediators that have been trained in this community and the skills that have been passed on to end conflict peacefully,” said Jernigan.
Gliessner said the Sisters provided seed money that enables New Directions, every year, “to do home repairs for (more than) 150 homes with volunteer and government resources. … And these are unique services that keep folks in their homes.”
Sister Grenough, whose remarks were pre-recorded, said she and her siblings were educated by the Sisters of Loretto during the course of 26 years at Christ the King School and Loretto High School. She recalled her family’s poverty and the Sisters’ willingness to help them. She also recalled one sister who helped her when she was feeling “out of place” and “useless.”
Sister Emmanuel recognized her struggle, she said, and helped to lift her spirits and feel more confident in herself.
“She believed in me, and this was life-changing for me,” said Sister Grenough, who has served as a missionary abroad and currently serves in Myanmar.
Before the Sisters of Loretto opened Loretto High School, they first established the school known as Cedar Grove in 1842 in Portland, where it was located across the street from Our Lady, now Good Shepherd Church.
The school was formally named St. Michael’s and, later, St. Benedict’s Academy. It weathered the “Bloody Monday” riots in 1855 with the help of a stranger who stopped the mob of so-called Know Nothings — who were anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic — at the steps of the school.
Cedar Grove closed in 1925 with the opening of a new school, which became Loretto High School, in the Basil Doerhoefer Mansion at 45th Street and West Broadway. (The benefactor’s great-grandson, Basil Doerhoefer III, attended Saturday’s celebration.)
During the 1960s, Loretto High School reached its peak in enrollment with about 300 students. The sisters took part in the struggle for civil rights and open housing in Louisville. They actively recruited and established scholarships for African-American students.
Marsha Moorman, a 1969 graduate of Loretto High School, said during an interview after the program that the sisters “formed us into ladies of sophistication and elegance.”
But they also helped the students work through the experience of integration, she said.
“During that time, with civil rights and all those issues, we talked about those things,” she said. “All these girls had to struggle with that. It was not easy for the different groups of people to go through the struggle. We confronted it head-on.
“Teachers like Sister Maureen (O’Connell) guided us in the discussion so we could face those realities,” she added.
Sister Maureen O’Connell, who taught social studies at Loretto High School in the Civil Rights era, said her students taught her a great deal during that time, too.
“Loretto was deeply committed to integrating education for women from all races and classes and welcomed the opportunity to cross the divide of race and class,” she noted. “We saw it as a plus.”
Through her students, she added, she saw clearly the breadth and depth of racial injustice in a new light, and those experiences affected her personally.
“It changed me in a deep way,” she said.
Loretto High School closed in 1973 after declining enrollment made it impossible to financially sustain the school.
The Sisters of Loretto no longer operate Catholic schools in Louisville, but 14 sisters and lay co-members still serve in the area as social workers, nurses, volunteers, educators, yoga teachers, alternative healers and spirituality counselors.
Members of the Loretto community serve in 31 states and 11 countries. The community has more than 200 vowed sisters and more than 200 co-members.
By Marnie McAllister, Record Assistant Editor