Navigate to...

The Loretto: A Safe Place From Home

January 31st, 2019posted by Sarah L. Ater

In 1912, Miss Josephine Schwind, a Catholic philanthropist from Dayton, became aware of a young single working woman, ill and dying in a boarding home, away from her family. She determined that this was a situation that should never happen in her city. She founded the Loretto Guild to address the situation. At her urging, Archbishop Henry Moeller solicited the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine de Ricci from Albany, N.Y. to come to the Archdiocese.  Their charism was to give spiritual retreats and to provide homes for business women of any denomination. Miss Schwind presented to them two fully furnished properties on Franklin Street. The sisters immediately opened the Dominican House of Retreats, followed by the “Loretto Guild,” the home for single women. Within a year there were 120 working women there.  There was a huge demand for such housing, so an additional location was found on Ludlow Street which took up an entire block.

The Loretto, ca. 1930

Eventually by 1930, a large 4 story facility was erected on West First Street in Dayton. This building provided accommodations for 190 young ladies – who were either working women, or college students in the area. Although run by Catholic sisters, the home was open to women of all faiths. In fact, in 1962, 40% of the residents were non-Catholic. During the World Wars, there was a huge influx of women into the downtown area to work in the factories who needed safe accommodations. Initially the Loretto was open to women of all ages, but by 1969 the age was limited from 18 to 35.

This building had an elegant lobby, cafeteria, and a chapel. Each resident room had a twin bed, dresser, chair, closet and sink. Bathrooms were communal.

Up to 12 sisters lived there at a time. The sisters chaperoned the young women and set rules such as curfews. They also provided guidance, loving care, and a family away from home. At times, there was a resident priest chaplain. Sister Mary Baptista was superior of the Loretto for many years beginning in 1930 and was instrumental in establishing Our Lady of Good Counsel Retreat house in Dayton, opened in 1952 and closed in 1972.

The Loretto Lobby

This organization became a magnet for social activities in the downtown area. There were dances, choir practices, theater productions, bridge clubs, faith-based presentation, Catholic women’s associations, high school groups, and during the wars, military and industrial associations. Included in activity offerings would be visits from local beauticians who would teach the young women different ways to style their hair. In one year, 1961, more than 110,000 people attended events at the Loretto. Particularly during the summer months, it offered activities to the young people of the city.

The famed Inland Children’s Chorus, sponsored by General Motors, had their practice room in the basement in the 1950s and 1960s.

An 8th grade dance at The Loretto, 1957

The presence of Sinclair Community College and Miami-Jacobs Junior College of Business brought in a younger group of women to live in the Loretto in the 1960s and 1970s. But by the spring of 1976, the demand and support for such housing had dwindled and the Dominican Sisters decided to phase out the Loretto. The dwindling number of residents and sisters to staff the facility, as well as the costs of maintaining an older building were reasons given for the closure. The facility was closed and the building demolished. A parking lot has taken its place.

 

Laboring on the Mission is a blog of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati Archives. The title is taken from a letter written by Bishop Edward Fenwick, OP, describing his mission work in Ohio. Whether in the wilds of the 19th century or the baby boom of the 1950s, the Catholic Church continues the mission entrusted to her by Jesus Christ. Here we tell that story.