The nuns of Marion County

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By Stephen Lega

If you had any doubts about the Catholic roots in Marion County, you'll find plenty of evidence in the next few weeks.

April 22-26, the Sisters of Loretto will be celebrating their 200th anniversary with a homecoming for members of their community at the Motherhouse in Nerinx.

April 27-29, the Ursuline Sisters of Mt. St. Joseph will hold a centennial celebration, marking 100 years of service in Marion County.

The Sisters of Loretto got their start in St. Mary in 1812 when Ann Havern, Mary Rhodes and Christina Stuart started living a religious life under the guidance of Fr. Charles Nerinckx.

(Don't ask me why Fr. Nerinckx is spelled one way and the city of Nerinx is spelled differently. I really don't know the answer.)

If you've ever met a member of the Sisters of Loretto, you know they are quite different than the way nuns are portrayed in movies. I know I shouldn't generalize about personality traits, but the Loretto nuns I've met are anything but somber, habit-wearing sisters.

Yes, they have been and are still educators. But they are also politically active, and they aren't afraid to protest, demonstrate and even get arrested for standing up for what they believe is right. And this is nothing new.

The sisters marched with Martin Luther King, rallied in support of Cesar Chavez and farm workers and continue to be a presence in protesting the School of the Americas (which has been renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation).

On a personal level, I've always felt welcome around the Sisters of Loretto, and for me, the Motherhouse has been a place to let go of some of the stresses of everyday life.

Now, I don't mean to downplay the significance of the Ursulines in Marion County. I haven't had as much contact with those sisters, but I do know they have had a tremendous impact on this community.

The Ursuline Sisters started educating generations of Marion Countians during the 1911-12 school year, many in one-room schoolhouses. If you grew up here, there is a decent chance you or someone you know was taught by an Ursuline Sister (and probably more than one).

They taught at St. Martha and St. Mary. They taught at Holy Cross Elementary, Raywick Elementary, St. Charles Elementary, St. Charles High School, St. Joe Elementary, St. Francis of Assisi Elementary, St. Francis High. They've also taught at Calvary Elementary, St. Augustine and Marion County High School.

As part of the upcoming centennial celebration for the Ursulines, the community has been asked to search for any memorabilia from their school days and copies of pictures that can be displayed throughout the weekend. If you have anything to display, call Sr. Mary Lois Speaks at (270) 699-9071 or Phyllis Troutman at (270) 692-9067.

I suspect both of these celebrations will bring back a lot of memories for many Marion Countians, and I look forward to reporting on these events in the weeks to come.