Sisters of Loretto

By: Sister Aurelia Ottersbach, S.L.

Type: General Entry

Published: June 1, 1995

The Sisters of Loretto, a religious order founded in Kentucky in 1812 by Mary Rhodes, Christine Stuart, and Nancy Havern under the direction of Father Charles Nerinckx, was focused from its beginning on teaching. The sisters moved west from Kentucky with the pioneer settlers and opened schools in Missouri (1823) and Kansas (1847), the latter for Osage Indians. In 1852, four years after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ceded the Southwest to the United States, Loretto responded to the appeal of Bishop Jean Baptiste Lamy to work with the Spanish speaking children of Santa Fe. The first Lorettine school in Texas, St. Joseph's Academy in San Elizario, was opened in 1879 at the request of Reverend Peter Bourgade, then pastor of the church at the presidio, who later became bishop of Tucson and afterwards archbishop of Santa Fe. This academy was a boarding and day school for girls from the surrounding area, from the Rio Grande valley, and from nearby Mexico. As the school grew, high school courses were added to the curriculum. When the railroad reached El Paso and bypassed San Elizario, the sisters were advised to move their school to the larger settlement. Consequently, in September 1892 the Sisters of Loretto opened St. Joseph Academy in El Paso, in the building formerly occupied by a school operated by the Sisters of Mercy. In October of the same year Sacred Heart School, the first Lorettine-taught parochial school in Texas, began operations on South Oregon Street in El Paso. Subsequent parochial schools were opened and operated in El Paso by the sisters: St. Mary's or Immaculate Conception (1903–66), St. Ignatius (1905–57), Guardian Angel (1912–73), Holy Family (1922–25), St. Joseph (1923–77), St. Patrick (1923–79), and Assumption (1960–64). Sacred Heart School closed in 1973. In 1923 Loretto Academy was constructed on a seven-acre campus in the Austin Terrace area of the city. St. Joseph Academy closed when the new school opened. In 1926 the St. Joseph building was turned over to a group of nuns fleeing the persecution in Mexico; in the St. Joseph building they operated a school for refugees from their country until 1932. St. Joseph Academy reopened in 1934 and was again closed in 1955. Interstate 10 now runs across its site. Besides the schools, the Sisters of Loretto administer Nazareth Hall in El Paso, a licensed nursing home built in 1962, primarily to care for the retired and infirm Sisters of Loretto. From 1949 to 1965 Lorettines staffed St. Mary, Star of the Sea, an elementary school in Freeport. St. Michael's School in Houston was opened in 1954 with Loretto Sisters in charge; by 1990 it had expanded to serve over 400 students. Since the Second Vatican Council the opportunities for ministry for the sisters have increased to include adult education, geriatrics, pastoral ministry, religious education, and "peace and justice" projects.

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Catholic Archives of Texas, Files, Austin. W. J. Howlett, Life of Rev. Charles Nerinckx (Techny, Illinois: Mission Press, 1915; 2d ed. 1940). Harriot Howze Jones, comp. and ed., El Paso: A Centennial Portrait (El Paso, 1972). Anna C. Minogue, Loretto Annals of the Century (New York: America Press, 1912). Sister M. Lilliana Owens, S.L., Reverend Carlos M. Pinto (El Paso: Revista Católica Press, 1951).


  • Religion
  • Catholic
  • Women

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Sister Aurelia Ottersbach, S.L., “Sisters of Loretto,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 24, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

June 1, 1995

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