sister loretta hennekes

February 28, 1929 - April 6, 2015

 A passionate champion for justice, a joyful woman, a good friend

Loretta, youngest child of John and Wilhemina Warnick Hennekes, was born in St. Louis February 28, 1929.  She attended Corpus Christi Grade School and Laboure High School.  After graduation from Laboure she worked for two years before entering the Sisters of St. Joseph on September 15, 1949. Loretta first heard of the CSJs when her sister Mary’s friend, Ann Judith McCormick, entered. Later on, her parish priest, a friend of S. Viola Mary Moore, suggested she consider the Sisters of St. Joseph. She received the habit and the name, S. John Bernard, on March 19, 1950. Her degree in history was from Fontbonne. 

S. Loretta taught elementary students in Missouri for ten years (St. John & James; St. Cecilia; St Edward; Holy Name; St. Matthew the Apostle).“I loved the people there…I loved those students” was a comment made repeatedly about the places she taught, as well as, “I certainly enjoyed the sisters I lived with.” A memory from her first mission: a woman in the parish whose son S. Loretta taught, asked the two youngest sisters (walking home from Mass in rank), if she could show them the sights of Ferguson. She and S. Marian Cowan happily got in her car—a convertible—for a tour.(Picture veils flying!) Although their superior was waiting to speak to them when they got back, they didn’t mind too much!

From 1962-1980, S. Loretta taught in various high schools: Little Flower, Chicago, Illinois; Bergan ,Peoria, Illinois; St. Thomas Aquinas, Florissant, Missouri; and St. Louis Prep Seminary North, also in Florissant. S. Loretta pursued her master’s in modern European history at St. Louis University. It was there that she met S. Audrey Olson, also studying for a master’s in history. That was the beginning of a long friendship.

Life sometimes involved the unexpected, like learning to drive in Chicago. She was often put in situations for which she had no previous training such as directing a Pom Pom group in Peoria; teaching six classes of religion at Aquinas or at the seminary; being costume director for school plays; doing spiritual direction; teaching religion (and being the only woman on the staff ). “You can do it, Sister,” people said—and she did.

In 1980 S. Loretta attended the Jesuit School of Theology in Chicago. Then her friend S. Audrey asked if she would be interested in being director of the Social Justice Office at Carondelet. Already aroused by the injustices she had seen in parishes and dioceses, as well as the plight of many women and children, she agreed.

One highlight from S. Loretta’s days as social justice director happened during the 1986 Federation Event (also our sesquicentennial year). She helped to organize a march from the hotel to the Arch grounds where a tree was to be planted. Speaking at the Federation Event was Dom Helder Camara, an archbishop from Brazil, of whom she commented, “I consider him a saint of the age.” To her utter amazement and delight, he wished to participate in the march. At the Arch, S. Miriam Therese Larkin spoke, as well as Robert Mueller from the UN.

After directing the Justice and Peace Office in Evansville, Indiana, for a year, S. Loretta returned to St. Louis to be campus minister at St. Louis University. From 1990-1996 she was director of the Justice and Peace Office, Green Bay, Wisconsin.

In 1996, following a sabbatical in Dover, Massachusetts, she chose to succeed her friend, S. Audrey Olson, as coordinator of Association and Partnership. She retired in 2002 to do volunteer ministry. In her early days of retirement, she and S. Audrey, with whom she lived, went on road trips when possible. Most memorable, though, was a trip to England and Scotland where she was thrilled to walk in the places that she had taught about in her classes.

In 2005, S. Loretta began to have health problems and, in 2008, retired to Nazareth.

S. Helen Oates

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