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Loretto, Sisters of


Officially known as the Sisters of Loretto at the Foot of the Cross (SL, Official Catholic Directory #2360). It was founded in 1812 by Charles Nerinckx, a Belgian priest exiled by the French Revolution. This first native American sisterhood without foreign affiliation had its origin in the educational efforts of Maryland-born Mary Rhodes, who opened a school near St. Charles Church in Hardin's Creek, Ky. With Father Nerinckx's permission, she and Christina Stuart and Anne Havern taught catechism in addition to rudimentary subjects. When the group expressed the desire to live the religious life, Nerinckx received them as novices on April 25, 1812. Two months later, the society was formally organized by the election of a superior according to rule. In the next 12 years the membership increased; six other houses were established in Kentucky, and one in Missouri.

Upon the death of Nerinckx in 1824, Bp. Benedict Flaget of Bardstown, Ky., moved Loretto from its original foundation at Hardin's Creek to St. Stephen's Farm, seven miles distant. The convent and church that the sisters erected there, dedicated in 1826 and totally destroyed by fire in 1858, were replaced by more spacious buildings that included the motherhouse.

Loretto's constitutions were submitted to Pius VII for approval in 1816; in 1851 they were again presented to the Holy See; in 1907 Pius X fully and finally confirmed them. An act of the legislature of Kentucky incorporated the Loretto Sisterhood under the title, Loretto Literary and Benevolent Institution. The Loretto Sisters labored in China from 1923 until their expulsion in 1951. The motherhouse is in Nerinx, KY.

Bibliography: Archives of the Motherhouse of the Sisters of Loretto (Nerinckx, Ky).

[m. barrett/eds.]

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