History Library

The Nuns of San Elizario

By Sam Sanchez, Sr.

    They came in 1852, to establish learning institutions for the children of the Southwest. Summoned by Bishop J.B. Lamy of Santa Fe, the Sisters of Loretto traveled through treacherous territory guided only by Divine providence and their determination to arrive at their destination.

     Their trip had begun in Loretto, Kentucky where their order was formed in 1812, and where the convent was located. They boarded a steamboat which took them up the Mississippi to St Louis, Missouri, from there to Independence. There, they arranged to join a group of pioneer travelers in a caravan of covered wagons traveling to New Mexico territory. Their journey West on the Santa Fe trail was not easy.

    After weeks of struggles and fears, broken axles and wheels, sights of dried-to-chalk bones and schorching days, the group finally arrived in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It became quite evident that if the Sisters were to fulfill the intentions of Bishop Lamy, they would need a convent and a school. Mexican carpenters began to build for the Sisters. After the school was finished, it was called "Loretto Academy."

    As settlements grew in population and became towns, the need for other schools in other places became clear. More nuns were needed and so, the Santa Fe trail was the choice route of travelers. The Santa Fe trail was formed by migrating buffalo herds and the plains Indians hunting after the buffalo. Later the prospectors, known as the 49ers, used the trail on their way to the gd fields in California.

    San Elizario, already enjoying a public school, like other large towns, was in need of a school for girls. In 1879 the parish priest in San Elizario, the Reverend Peter Bourgade, requested a colony of Sisters of Loretto for his school. He obtained five Sisters. They arrived the latter part of 1879. Traveling from Santa Fe to Las Cruces and on to San Elizario was a bit risky. The Apache Victorio, on his rampage of destruction and vengeance just happened to be in the area.

    When the Sisters arrived, the dust of the Salt War controversy was still settling around San Elizario. Furthermore, Telesforo Montes' Rangers were busy out in the field following Apaches to recover stolen livestock. The daring breakout of the notorious Melquiades Segura from the jail was still fresh on people's minds. The County Seat had recently been lost to the growing city of El Paso. The floods ruined most of the adobe houses. Even the old church building had crumbled. The Sisters if Loretto had their work cut out for them.

     The Sisters of Loretto were determined to succeed in their endeavors. They managed to establish their school in an old house provided for them. With a lot of hard hard work and help if the community, they opened opened St. Joseph's College and Academy. The Academy flourished until 1892, when it was transferred to the City of El Paso. It is now known as Loretto Academy School for Girls.

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