Sisters of Loretto, the Founders of Webster University | Webster University

Sisters of Loretto, the Founders of Webster University

The Sisters of Loretto were founded in 1812 by a priest from Belgium, Charles Nerinckx. Their primary mission was education, and they started schools in Kentucky and Missouri before continuing to the American southwest, especially New Mexico.


Upon arriving in the metropolitan St. Louis area, the Sisters of Loretto began their ministry by opening "academies" or schools for girls. Eventually the Sisters expanded their reach and opened Loretto College in 1915. The institution would later change names twice, becoming Webster College in 1924 and then Webster University in 1983. They also founded Loretto Heights College in Denver, Colorado, which operated from 1918-19881.


The book, Loretto in Missouri2, describes the following major Loretto institutions in St. Louis (page references in parentheses):

  • The Sisters of Loretto arrived in Florissant in 1847 and opened Loretto Academy (p. 35). A new academy building was dedicated in 1882 (p. 39) and was destroyed by fire in 1919 (p. 41).
  • The Loretto order opened a school in the city of St. Louis in 1862 but had to close it two years later (p. 86).
  • A Loretto Academy opened at Jefferson and Pine in 1874 (p. 88) but moved to Lafayette Avenue in 1909 (p. 96). The Lafayette location closed in 1952 (p. 115).
  • The Loretto order purchased the Benjamin Webster home in 1898 and opened a boarding school for girls (p. 129). The building was destroyed by fire in 1905 (p. 131).
  • The Sisters of Loretto began Loretto College (later called Webster College and Webster University) in 1915. Classes the first year were held at Loretto Academy in Kansas City, Missouri. The college moved to St. Louis in 1916 once Webster Hall opened on the same spot where the former Benjamin Webster home once stood (p. 136). More information about the institution is available on our History of Webster University page.
  • The Sisters of Loretto purchased the Lockwood estate and opened Nerinx Hall on that location in 1924 (p. 145). They also built a center for Sisters of Loretto to live while they taught at Nerinx or went to school or taught at Webster College. The video, Holy Ground, shares the history of the property from 1924-2017.


1The archives for Loretto Heights College are located at Regis University.


2Owens, M. Lilliana, S.L. (1965). Loretto in Missouri. St. Louis: B. Herder Book Co.