April 24, 2016

Interviewed by Sharon Cecil, SCNA

Loretta Mueller was born to John and Loretta Dumler Mueller on May 6, 1927, in Cincinnati, Ohio. She was baptized on May 22, 1927, the feast of Saint Rita. Loretta made her First Communion and was confirmed on her seventh birthday. Loretta grew up in a very loving and caring family who always worked together. She was the oldest of four children and had one brother, John, and two sisters, Mary Jane and Martha.

Before the Depression of the 1930’s Loretta’s father worked in a very fine candy factory in downtown Cincinnati, which closed during the Depression. After the Depression he was able to find a job at the Kroger and Food Foundation. When he retired, her father continued to make candy which her mother dipped for him in order to have a little extra income.

Loretta and her brother and sisters were involved in all the sports teams in both grade and high school. Her youngest sister, Martha once said about a basketball game, “We did not win and we did not lose, the referee cheated.”

Loretta was not interested in school because of her difficulty with Math. She was far more interested in sports. She remembered an incident when she was in the sixth grade, one where the boys took the girls’ ball from them. Loretta told Sister Adel, a Sister of Notre Dame, not to be surprised if she beat up the boys. Sister Adel responded, “My dear the only thing you beat up are eggs!”

Loretta played on all the varsity sports teams in high school. During her senior year she received an Outstanding Athlete Award, a bracelet with her name on it.

During World War II there were few men to work in the factories. Loretta found a job in her Junior and Senior years working at the Kroger and Food Foundation in Cincinnati, where her father had been employed.

Loretta and her friends joined the Cincinnati Recreation Commission fast pitch softball league. Her team won the league championship for ten years in a row; which they quit so the league could progress.

Loretta first encountered the Sisters of Charity on the volleyball court. She was attending the University of Cincinnati and Sister Ruth Edward Speer, SCN was coaching the girls’ volleyball team at LaSalette Academy in Covington, Kentucky. Sister had challenged a large school in Cincinnati to a game. The girls from the Academy were not playing well. Loretta, as a referee, kept telling Sister Ruth Edward what they should do. The final score was high in favor of the team they had challenged. It was not long after this game when Loretta received a phone call from Sister Ruth Edward, saying that Sister Linus Mary Roof (Velma) wanted to hire her for a part time coaching job for girls’ volleyball and basketball at LaSalette Academy. Loretta accepted the job and it helped her to pay for her college education at the University of Cincinnati.

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Miss Loretta Mueller was the LaSalette Academy Volleyball Coach before entering the SCN community.

Presentation High School in Louisville, Kentucky had a very successful basketball team at this time. Sister Ruth Edward scheduled a game for LaSalette to play Presentation. Sister Louise de Marillac Lovejoy was the Presentation coach and Sister Agnes Geraldine McGann, the principal. Presentation was favored to win by a big margin. However, the game was very close throughout and Presentation won by only one point. Loretta was very proud of the LaSalette girls’ efforts on the court.

Loretta’s experiences with the Sisters at LaSalette drew her to her religious vocation. She admired the relationship the Sisters had with the girls and how well they worked together.

The girls at LaSalette were loyal to the school. Later, when the school closed, the free standing library was donated to Saint Mary’s Academy in Leonardtown, Maryland. Loretta’s sister and brother-in-law took the shelves apart and Sister Mary Elizabeth Miller, principal of Saint Mary’s, flew them to Maryland to reassemble the shelves. (Sister John Loretto was missioned at Saint Mary’s Academy at this time)

Loretta entered the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth on September 8, 1956 and received the habit on July 9, 1957 and received John Loretto as her religious name. She made first vows on July 1959 and final vows in 1960.

When Sister John Loretto was in the Novitiate, she remembered a Sister asked her to go with her to the cedar trees. She did not understand why the Sister wanted to go there. But when they arrived at the trees the Sister yelled as loud as she could. She did not explain why she was yelling. Sister John Loretto decided that the Sister must have been frustrated. The Sister went on to become a psychiatrist but later left the community.

Another memory of the Novitiate was how the Sisters “did up” their caps for vows. Sister John Loretto, together with two other Sisters, each had a task to do with the cap. Sister John Loretto enjoyed her task of pleating. Sister John Loretto found her time in the Novitiate easy. She believed this was because she was twenty nine when she entered the community had her degree and more life experiences.

Sister John Loretto’s first mission was at Saint Rita School in Alexandria, Louisiana. She taught the seventh grade for the three years she was there and found the people very warm and receptive. Many of the children were from the England Air Force Base that was near the school. It was a benefit that various cultures were represented in the school.

A funny thing happened in class one day when a boy, who had been in other schools, asked to go to the basement. Sister John Loretto was confused because there was no basement at the school. She learned that schools “up north” had basements and that was where the toilet was located. The boy had learned that phrase when he had asked to go to the toilet.

Sister John Loretto was impressed by the mother of a child in her class. The child’s mother waited tables and earned money so she could pay for her child’s tuition. The mother was never late with a payment.

Another experience Sister John Loretto shared was that one boy was always late for class. One day she asked him why he was late. The boy told Sister he only had one pair of pants which was not dry. Later, Sister John Loretto made a home visit; and saw firsthand the conditions of the boy’s home. She now understood why he came to school in dirty clothes and why often his papers had grease spots on them. At another home that Sister visited, the family knocked holes in the walls instead of using doors.

The Ku Klux Klan marched in the street in front of Saint Rita School. They had a fuse and burned nine foot crosses in front of the school and throughout the state of, Louisiana. A very bright student asked Sister John Loretto, “Are Negroes in Heaven?” Sister responded, “If you don’t think they are, do not worry, with your attitude you might not get there.”

Sister John Loretto told her students of President Kennedy’s assassination and they cheered. She was surprised at this and was sad that her students were so prejudiced against the blacks. Sister John Loretto was always very supportive of the Civil Rights movement.

Next, Sister John Loretto taught fourth grade at Saint Elizabeth School in Clarksdale, Mississippi for two years. One Sunday evening a man of the parish had invited the Sisters to a barbecue at his home. He told the Sisters that he had to get up early every Monday and go bail his cotton pickers out of jail. He asked them why this happened every Monday. One guy told him if you had been a black man on Saturday night you never wanted to be a white man again!!!

In August of 1967, Sister John Loretto went to Saint Mary’s Academy in Leonardtown, Maryland where she stayed until 1981. The Academy was for girls, day students and boarders. The Academy had many girls from Central and South America, Vietnam and Zambia. Sister’s working with these students instilled in her the desire to someday go to Belize, Central America.

Sister John Loretto wore many caps at Saint Mary’s Academy. She was resident advisor, coach of all sports teams and took care of maintenance for the academy.

One evening Sister took the girls to see a movie, The Midnight Cowboy. The manager did not want to let them enter. He told Sister the movie was about homosexuals and he did not think the girls would understand it. Sister told him she would be responsible for them and the manager relented. After the movie Sister John Loretto tried to explain the movie but the girls told her they knew it was about homosexuals.

Each summer for six weeks Sister John Loretto was Director of Camp Maria also in Leonardtown. She coordinated all the activities for the participants.

In 1981, Sister John Loretto returned to Russell Hall at Nazareth, Kentucky. Sister Dorothy MacDougall asked her to develop physical fitness classes for the Sisters at the Motherhouse and Nazareth Home. Sister John Loretto had many of the Sisters swimming for the first time. Sister Mary Paul Walsh, who was eighty, learned to do the elementary back stroke. Sister Mary Victorine Rogers stayed busy sewing swim suits for the Sisters.

Finally, in October of 1983, Sister John Loretto had the opportunity to go to the SCN mission in San Antonio, Belize, Central America. San Antonio was in a jungle and was the second largest village in Belize.

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Group in Belize: Irene Locario’s First Vow Mass at Sacred Heart Church, Dangriga, Belize in 1984.
Front Row (L-R): Sisters Mary Lynn Fields, Ann Moyalen, John Loretto, and Irene Locario
Back Row (L-R): Sisters Dorothy MacDougall, Mary Ransom Burke, Ann Kernen, and Sarah Ferriell

Sister John Loretto was pastoral administrator for twenty nine villages in Belize. She was instrumental in getting permission from the Bishop for the Eucharist to be reserved in the villages. Damos Chun, Sister Higinia Bol’s brother-in-law, made tabernacles and bolted them down in the churches. Communion Services could then be held when the priest was not able to get to the village.

Sister John Loretto started Faith groups in the villages. Many villagers were also involved in the Renew program which was a spiritual renewal opportunity.

Sister John Loretto told of problems encountered in traveling during the rainy season. When they came to bridges they would have to take their shoes off and keep their socks on so they would not slide off the bridges. If the bridge was flooded they would take a boat to the other side. A bus would then take them the rest of the way.

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Sister John Loretto rides a mule on the return trip from San Vincente Village in Belize. Behind her is her companion in ministry, Sister Marian Joseph, R.S.M. 

Sister John Loretto especially enjoyed the Sisters she lived and worked with in Belize. One was Sister Ann Moyalan who was the first Sister from India to come to Belize. She was a nurse and was stationed in San Antonio. She had much nursing experience, having delivered over five hundred babies while in India. Another Sister from India Sister Jane Karakunnel started a youth group and had week long workshops for catechists. During Sister John Loretto’s Belize years there were always three Sisters who lived together. Sister John Loretto gained much from their deep level of shared prayer in the evenings.

Sister John Loretto shared how she was inspired by Sister Adeline Fehribach also missioned in Belize. Sister Adeline shared all her gifts and talents with them. She taught the catechists how to develop and deliver homilies.

Sister John Loretto also worked with the different Religious Orders who were in Belize. She especially remembered working with the Pallatine and Mercy Sisters and the Jesuits.

Sister John Loretto returned to Nazareth in June of 1990. It was not long before she was a driver for Community Services. Sister John Loretto enjoyed the ministry of driving the Sisters to various appointments and places. She continued in this ministry until August of 1998.

It was in August of 1998 that Sister John Loretto began a sabbatical year at Silver Spring, Maryland. Sister John Loretto shared how she became aware of angers within herself and with others. This sabbatical time helped her to work through her angers and she returned at peace with others and herself.

It was not long after Sister John Loretto’s sabbatical year that she departed for Holly Springs, Mississippi. She worked in Saint Joseph parish with Sister Monica Boll. She helped Sister Monica with the Literacy Council. Sister John Loretto also worked with a Sacred Heart brother in renovating a home to be used by the transient population. She was involved in parish ministries and often had Communion Services.

Sister John Loretto retired in 2006 and returned to Nazareth. She had an apartment in O’Connell Hall for ten years. In November of 2015 she had to move from this apartment to an apartment in the Motherhouse and she was unhappy in this second apartment. This transition was very difficult for her. She was deeply hurt by the move. In April 29, 2016, she was allowed to choose where she wanted to live. She chose a room in Carrico Hall. Although, she has endured painful suffering by the move she is now at peace in her beautiful room in Carrico Hall.

One thing Sister John Loretto found difficult in her early community days was that there was usually a lack of money to assist the poor.

Mother Lucille Russell and Sister Mora Rose Marks are two Sisters who influenced her life. When she was in the Novitiate they treated her as an adult. Sister John Loretto appreciated their care and concern for her and the other Sisters.

The most meaningful retreat that Sister John Loretto ever participated in was at Milford, Ohio. The retreat was directed by a Jesuit Deacon who was very “down to earth” and explained things well. Sister John Loretto said she was earthy and was able to relate to him.

Today, Sister John Loretto is involved in a very good Faith group that she finds life giving. Community wide she feels there is not enough sharing of individual faith experiences. It is her desire that more people will be open to share their experiences. Sister John Loretto looks to the future, desiring to be kind and helpful to people, and practice patience when needed!