“Operation Sacred Rescue” has come to a fitting close with the reinterment of 62 Sisters of Loretto at Mount Olivet Catholic Cemetery in Wheat Ridge.
“The best part of the operation is when you bring people home to reunite with their family members” said Gary Schaff, Executive Director of Mortuary and Cemeteries at Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services. “We took them into our loving arms and we’re going to bring them all together with the 22 other sisters that are already buried here. The Holy Spirit has a plan and a timeline for how to do stuff like this and it feels like we tried very hard to cooperate with that.”
The historic exhumation of these sisters from the Loretto Heights campus in southwest Denver was a years-long process involving the Sisters of Loretto, the Archdiocese of Denver, and Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services. When the difficult decision was made earlier this year to exhume the sisters and move them to Mount Olivet, the team got to work. For months, professionals from Metro State University and the University of Colorado Boulder carefully, diligently, and reverently exhumed and analyzed each sister’s remains in order to better understand their lives.
While the exhumation project was underway, the Neitenbach family began constructing caskets by hand for each sister, putting in over 500 hours of work in order to ensure that each sister had a dignified place to rest.
The project came to a fitting close with a time for visitation and tribute, followed by a memorial Mass celebrated by Bishop Jorge Rodríguez this week at Mount Olivet. “Today we are moving to a new resting place 62 Sisters of Loretto,” said Bishop Rodríguez in his homily. “We know that these 62 sisters of ours whose remains we respect and honor today gave their lives totally to Christ, totally to God, to serve. We can calculate countless hours of prayer for the salvation of the world, countless sacrifices, persevering in their vocation even in difficult times. Only God knows the difference they made in the lives of the women that they educated. Their vocation to religious life was a vocation to dedicated service. That we know. And that deserves a huge monument. This is the true power and beauty of our Church yesterday and today.”
After Mass, each sister was brought to her final resting place as a brief biography of each sister was read. Students from Bishop Machebeuf High School and Holy Family High School served as pallbearers for each sister, a fitting tribute to the women who gave their lives in service to God through educating young people — especially at these two schools.
“One of the super important parts for me, having been a teacher,” said Sister Mary Nelle Gage, the sister who oversaw the project on behalf of the Sisters of Loretto, “was that both Machebeuf and Holy Family rose to the occasion and got not 4 or 5 students that they had browbeaten to come, but a lot who obviously were willing to do this because they were pallbearers again and again.”
“I just like the feeling of peace, that she’ll finally have a final resting place,” said Nancy Clark, the great-great-great niece of Sister Eudocia, one of the Sisters of Loretto that was reinterred at Mount Olivet — and one of the original sisters to come to Denver at the invitation of Bishop Machebeuf. “Even though it’s further away and we can’t visit as often, at least we know that everybody will be taken care of. I’ve always said I wanted to be buried here!”
The reinterment of the sisters was indeed characterized by an atmosphere of peaceful prayer, in both petition and gratitude for the sisters’ lives and service.
“Honestly, I’m overwhelmed,” said Sister Mary Nelle. “Today was perfectly beautiful, and it’s a tribute to Mount Olivet and their staff. They did everything with such grace. When I was just sitting there, paying attention to what was happening, I just thought, ‘this is so right.’ These sisters will now have this beautiful setting — their graves looked out on the mountains there [at Loretto Heights] but there’s something expansive here. To be together here, I think that’s very important. The work that they did was for a future they didn’t get to see, but we’re building on the work they did.”
“We wouldn’t be here but for all of them. For us to be here and celebrate their lives, I think it’s profound,” said Schaff. “I don’t think the Catholic Church would be what it is in Denver but for the foundational work that these 62 sisters laid for all of us. It’s just a privilege to be able to celebrate their lives so long after many of them lived. To really get to know them, it’s unique. This is allowing us to connect with the history of our church in Denver in a profound way.”