The Sisters of Loretto at the Foot of the Cross was founded in 1812 in Kentucky. The first members, Mary Rhodes, Christina Stuart and Ann Havern, recognized the need of children in the area for education and religious formation. It was not long before they expressed to their pastor, Father Charles Nerinckx, their desire to devote themselves entirely to God and neighbor, as a religious community. He composed for them a simple rule, outlining the nature and intentions of “The Little Society of the Friends of Mary under the Cross of Jesus.” For nearly 200 years, the Sisters of Loretto, as friends of Mary, continue to be a dedicated community of faith and service which exists to praise God and to minister to people.
Mary, Ann and Christina began their religious life together on April 25, 1812, a day celebrated as Loretto Foundation Day each year. They called the cabin complex which served as their home and teaching quarters “Little Loretto,” after the shrine in Italy which honors the home of Jesus, Mary and Joseph at Nazareth. After the departure of Father Nerinckx for Missouri in 1824, the Sisters of Loretto moved a few miles from their original cabins along Hardin’s Creek to St. Stephen’s Farm, where the present Loretto Motherhouse is located, 60 miles south of Louisville.
From the beginning, the Sisters of Loretto engaged in teaching as the primary focus of their apostolate. The Sisters of Loretto moved west from Kentucky in almost parallel years with the pioneer settlers and opened schools in Missouri (1823) and Kansas (1847), the latter for Osage Indians. In 1852, four years after the United States annexed the Southwest Territory, Loretto sisters responded to the appeal of Bishop J. B. Lamy to work with the Spanish-speaking children of Santa Fe. There a school flourished for over a century and served as a nucleus from which Loretto spread to other New Mexico towns and also to Colorado (1864), Texas (1879), and California (1886). The Loretto Normal School (1896) led to more advanced teacher training, graduate study, and the establishment of two colleges for women, Webster College (1916) in Saint Louis and Loretto Heights College (1918) in Denver. By the twentieth century, the Sisters of Loretto established schools in China and South America. Now Loretto is planning to establish a foundation in Pakistan.
Today, in addition to the traditional work of education, Sisters of Loretto minister to victims of violence and abuse, advocate for equality in church and society, shelter the homeless, and nurture the Earth. Our ministries are diverse and represent many individual responses to the demands of gospel living. Our spirituality follows the rhythms of praise to God and service to neighbor.