(“Ret, have a good time,” was the response Norbert George Weller gave to his daughter Loretta when she told him she wanted to go to Nazareth. Although her father thought that she planned to spend a weekend at the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth Motherhouse, Loretta meant going to Nazareth to follow her vocational call.
Indeed she has had a good and a graced time. After sixty-four years as an SCN, she smiles and says, “I have never regretted my decision to enter.”)
Loretta and her twin brother Norbert, Jr. “Bud”, were born in 1923 to Norbert and Marcella North Weller. Besides the twins there were three other children – Mary Clara, Margaret Alice and Robert Joseph. All the children were born in the small Weller home in Newport, Kentucky. (Her parents and all Loretta’s siblings are now deceased.)
There is an experience of her very early childhood that Loretta tells. While it is frightening to relate, it speaks of God’s Providence in her life. ”This is an experience which was told in family gatherings. Bud and I were playing in our very small front yard one day …and a gypsy caravan was coming down the street in Newport. A woman got out of the wagon and came to talk to us. She was in bright colorful clothing and had all kinds of beads. After talking with us she reached up and picked us up, one in each arm and put us in her wagon. Lucky for us the insurance man on the corner. Mr. Ducker, saw what was happening and contacted the police. After six or seven blocks down the street the police arrived and rescued us.”
Norbert Sr. was of German descent, a shoe materials salesman, and Marcella, of Irish descent, was a stay-at-home Mom until the children were grown. Young Loretta did not have good health. After her first two years at Newport’s Immaculate Conception School where SCNs taught, it was easier for Loretta to attend a public school right across the street from their home. A very kind third grade public school teacher Loretta remembers and credits with her ability to read.
Loretta’s maternal grandparents Robert and Maggie Malone North lived near the Weller family. The grandfather came from Canada and the grandmother from Ireland. There were eleven grandchildren who were often at their North grandparents’ home. Loretta smiles when sharing this memory,” My grandfather, who worked at a bank, would give us spoons and tell us that there were nice new coins buried in the yard for us to find. What we didn’t realize is that all our digging prepared the ground for his spring garden. A wise man!”
Loretta has happy memories of her family and childhood. She remembers that during summers her Mom and Dad would take them by bus to Cincinnati where they would visit the zoo or, at least once a summer, take the Island Queen boat to go to Coney Island in order to enjoy the rides. Another onetime summer event was to ride the Cincinnati bus to the end of the line so that they could visit the cemetery and clean around the family graves.
During her public high school years, Loretta was fortunate to have a Mr. Alberson as a teacher. She appreciates the excellent preparation she received from him for the AT&T position in Cincinnati she would get before graduating from high school. She was first hired as an operator and then became chief operator and later a trainer for new employees, in total ten years.
It was in her role as trainer that Loretta joined the union and became a union steward. It was the first strike against AT&T and their cause was a demand for better wages. Loretta walked the picket line and tells of a situation when two of the men on the picket line said,” We think we will go down to the saloon and have a drink.” As union steward she replied,” No, if you do that, I will have to call the police since the picket line rules do not allow it.” The men decided not to go. The strike was a success and Loretta’s wages increased from twenty-five dollars to fifty dollars a week…. a great benefit!
Loretta wanted to join the Blessed Mother Sodality that included Notre Dame and LaSalette Academy girls. She was afraid that she might not fit in these girls who had attended a private Catholic school, but she did become a member. She even got to crown the statue of Our Lady which had been a girlhood dream for Loretta like her sister Mary who had such an honor.
She believes that entering religious life had been in the back of her mind for a long time but she knew that she needed to work in order to help the family. During these years Loretta’ Dad often invited priests to come to the Weller home to play cards so she felt at ease around clergy. Loretta got to know all of them and one night was even invited to take someone’s place.
During this time Loretta recalls, “My sister Mary and I were very close. Together we went traveling and enjoyed visiting many wonderful places. Besides that I liked to read, especially mystery books, listen to music and crochet which I did for church fundraisers. Mary knew SCNs from her days at Immaculate Conception so through her I felt I, too, knew them.”
During this time Loretta volunteered at the Cathedral in Cincinnati, sometimes assisting with running the Bingo games. She recalls an instance when one of the players gave her the wrong bill. Her supervising helper told her to go back and get the correct money. With some trepidation and an assurance of back up, she did just that. Without a word the man handed over the correct amount of money. (Loretta’s courage was apparent here as it was on the AT&T picket line. A bit of amusing advice she remembers regarding the Bingo experience is that she was told ,” In case of an air raid, sit on the cash box.”
Another shared example of “her going beyond her fear” occurred later when, as a principal, she took the first ride in a hot air balloon before the operator would take the children on free rides.)
There is a picture which Loretta has that shows a banquet of the Cincinnati Belles. It was a group of women founded by Loretta, in consultation with a national group, of Catholic women who worked at AT&T. Each day they gathered to say the rosary to Our Lady of the Belles and enjoyed a once a year breakfast banquet.
So in 1952, at age thirty, Loretta decided to enter the SCN novitiate. (That’s when the interesting conversation mentioned earlier took place with her Dad.) “My co-workers wanted to give me a going away gift and they surprised me with a very nice trunk. When I opened it, out jumped one of my close friends. (More about that trunk later.) The Sisters in Newport made the postulant clothing I needed,” says Loretta.
In March, 1953 Loretta was pleased to receive the religious name of Sister Mary Hugh. Father Hugh Mulligan from Immaculate Conception Parish in Newport had recommended Loretta. As customary in requesting one’s religious name, she had written this name three times instead of three different ones.
Loretta remembers that during her novitiate years, because she was older, she would be awakened in the dorm at night if someone was sick, like the mumps. Another chore she had was to help one who leaving the novitiate to get her belongings together. An additional job she was given was to clean Mother Bertrand’s room. To Loretta’s dismay, one day she broke a Hummel statue in the room. When told to go to Mother Bertrand and admit the accident, Loretta found Mother most understanding, and she could breathe a sigh of relief,
Loretta made first vows in March, 1955 and had as her first mission Our Lady of Sorrows School in Memphis, Tennessee. (This interviewer was happy to remember that she and Sister Mary Hugh taught at OLS together for three years, sharing teaching ministry, community life and even a bedroom with two beds, one desk and one closet.) Loretta would remain in Memphis teaching the fourth grade at OLS for eleven happy years. She has grateful memories of her two superiors there, Sisters Dorothy Ann Mandlehr and Elizabeth Ann Webb. Loretta was able to take Saturday classes at Siena College and truly loved her first mission experience.
Her next mission was to St. Matthias in Columbus, Ohio where she taught the third grade and was assistant principal. Loretta would remain here for three years .Then she was sent for a year to Immaculate Conception School in Newport, Kentucky, her former home parish. Here she taught the fifth and sixth grades.
By this time Sister Mary Hugh, now Loretta, had a B.A. and an M.A. in Education. In 1967 Loretta was missioned along with Sister Regina Atkins, SCN, to St. Mary School, Paris, Kentucky where she would be in different roles of educational and pastoral service for forty years. Loretta has so many wonderful memories of this long stay in Paris. For the first thirty years Loretta taught the third, fourth and fifth grades besides being principal and superior. She was fortunate in having as a pastor, Fr. Thomas Thai, with whom she still keeps in touch. They were able to work together easily for the good of the St. Mary Parish/School family. (As Loretta showed me her albums and awards it was so evident that these were years of building lasting relationships with faculty and families at the same time giving children quality education in faith and academics.)
These years of being the school leader were very meaningful for Loretta. She took a course in educational television so that she could know how to lead the children and staff to benefit from KET and other opportunities. A wonderful program that she launched was called Everyone Counts. She says happily, “This program teaches children about people with handicaps. We invited people who had these special needs to visit the school and share with the children about their particular handicap. The Mateer School in Paris serves children who have special needs and we asked if our third graders could go to the Mateer School to play and read with the children there. We even had a University of Kentucky wheelchair basketball game come to play with them.”
(She has a plaque from the Bourbon County ARC that reads,” In recognition of your special efforts to touch the lives of persons with handicaps.”)
Another highlight for Loretta was bringing computers into St. Mary’s School. IBM provided them with reconditioned computers and then several donors provided money to purchase five new ones.
She retired from St. Mary’s School in 1999. She remained in the parish helping in the parish office and with CCD classes. She rejoices in the great family spirit that she knew there and particularly seeing her former students come back after college and marriage. Loretta then became a member of the parish staff for six years, before returning to St. Mary’s to teach religion to the adults in the RCIA program. Finally, in 2008 she retired to the Nazareth Motherhouse. Loretta still keeps in touch with the St. Mary Parish as they let her know of illnesses, deaths, and other important events in the families’ lives.
As late as April, 2017 she had the chance to reunite with a St. Mary/ Paris friend, a Mr. Ziegler. He is the craftsman who has been hired to repair the storm damaged window in the back of St. Vincent Church. Loretta even took him out to dinner.
(That trunk she received when entering the Nazareth novitiate she now gave to the St. Mary Parish to use for a raffle. What a nice ending for a seasoned trunk!)
Always one to take her share of responsibility, Loretta accepted the mail room duty at the Motherhouse as well as tending to the Guest House. The mailroom she has relinquished after nine years but she and two other Sisters. Marcy Navarro and Valerie Miller, live at the Guest House and are there to welcome visitors to Nazareth. Loretta is grateful to have a faithful nephew and cousins who keep in close touch and want her to be involved in family gatherings whenever possible.
(Having known Loretta these many years I can only say that her faithful presence and sense of responsibility has always inspired me. She was never one to make a “splash” yet her quiet strength and steadfastness is the “stuff” upon which the SCN Community has been built. What an honor to hear her story!)
Maria Vincent Brocato, SCN – April, 2017