Kentucky sees several significant religious anniversaries in 2012

The Centennial of the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph in 2012 is not the only significant religious anniversary being celebrated this year in Kentucky.

The Diocese of Owensboro, in which the Ursuline Motherhouse resides, is celebrating 75 years this year. Since it was created by Pope Pius XI on Dec. 9, 1937, the diocese has expanded from 33 parishes and 19 missions to 79 parishes and two Newman Centers. The diocese supports 19 Catholic schools, a hospital and two retirement homes.

The 32 counties in western Kentucky were separated from the Diocese of Louisville, which was at the same time elevated to an archdiocese. The Most Rev. Francis R. Cotton was the first bishop of Owensboro, and served until 1961. The Most Rev. Henry J. Soenneker followed him and served until 1982, when he was replaced by the Most Rev. John J. McRaith. Bishop Emeritus McRaith served until 2009, and in 2010, the Most Rev. William Francis Medley began to serve as the fourth bishop of the Diocese of Owensboro.

The year of celebration for the diocese begins with the Chrism Mass on April 3, and lasts until the Chrism Mass in 2013. A special event in early December will mark the creation of the diocese.

Two religious communities located in the central Kentucky area known as the “Kentucky Holy Land” are celebrating bicentennials this year.

An influx of more than 1,000 Catholic families from Maryland migrated to Kentucky in the early 1800s following the Revolutionary War to begin the Diocese of Bardstown in 1808. In 1812, Bishop Benedict Flaget was overwhelmed by the responsibility of providing religious education for the children of these families. In response to this need, Father John Baptist David called for young women willing to devote their lives to the service of the Church. This began the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth.

From among a group of six women that responded to the call, Catherine Spalding, originally from Maryland, was elected first superior of the congregation. For 45 years, Mother Catherine guided the young congregation ever mindful of striving to respond to the needs of the time. The Sisters of Charity of Nazareth (SCNs) have dedicated their lives to education, health care and social work. With an emphasis on simplicity, humility, and charity, SCNs live out the motto Caritas Christi Urget Nos – “The love of Christ impels us.”

Also in 1812, three women formed a new religious order called The Little Society of the Friends of Mary at the Foot of the Cross. Three more women joined them later in the year, and work began on constructing a motherhouse. Father Charles Nerinckx, who officiated the commitment ceremony, had a love for the holy shrine of Our Lady of Loreto in Italy, and the community began being referred to as “Little Loretto.” The neighbors would refer to “the sisters over at Loretto,” and eventually that is what the community became to be called, and still is today, according to the community’s website.

The Sisters of Loretto moved to their current motherhouse in 1824, at what was St. Stephen’s Farm. The community continues to work for justice and peace, on environmental issues, education and global diversity through their international communities.

Despite the presence of these two communities, the three counties that make up the “Kentucky Holy Land” – Nelson, Washington and Marion – featured many schools in which the Ursuline Sisters taught, and were fertile areas for new Ursuline Sisters. There are 27 current Ursuline Sisters who call those three counties home.