The site of the Loretto Heritage Center and Archives is home to the Sisters of Loretto, a community of Catholic Sisters. Established in 1812 by three Catholic Kentucky pioneer women, the Loretto Motherhouse is today a vibrant center and a registered National Historic Site. The Motherhouse has recently undergone a transformation including a complete redesign for the visitor’s center and archive research facility, a mission-driven permanent and changing exhibit space, as well as a robust community outreach and public programming agenda.
Since 1812, the Sisters have preserved archival records and artifacts gathered from schools and works of Loretto Sisters widely dispersed across the world. In recent decades the structurally unchanged 1886 Academy building housed archival papers as well as artifacts in glass display cabinets. For the Sisters’ 200th anniversary in 2012, the community sought to make the archival holdings more secure and accessible, as well as to create a museum that more fully interprets the Loretto story.
The resulting permanent exhibit tells a chronological and thematic history of the Loretto Sisters, while highlighting specific organizational values such as education and international human rights advocacy. Since opening the Heritage Center, staff has designed and carried out several special activities to engage local residents. Loretto has also re-examined their responsibility to make the lives of the Sisters more accessible and documented. For the past two years, 150 interviews have been conducted with Loretto Sisters, which will be made available to researchers at the Loretto Motherhouse and the Kentucky Historical Society. Additionally, a public database of the individual histories of the Sisters has been created for genealogical research.
For an organization that is not centered around a museum mission, but rather an active mission of advocacy, the Loretto Heritage Center has successfully developed a museum experience that invites visitors into their legacy. The archives and museum exhibits continue Loretto’s teaching tradition by encouraging visitors to examine, compare, question, and hypothesize about their own responses to frontiers like those which shaped and challenged Loretto women.