|(Courtesy: Loretto Archives)|
After a lot of searching, I finally discovered some details of the life of Sister Mary Robert, my Grandpa Louie’s aunt on the Otero side of the family.
I thought it would be easy to at least find an obituary for a Catholic nun. But when I struck out, I turned to a handful of friends – a reporter in Las Cruces, an editor in Santa Fe and an archivist who usually finds things that I can’t find on my own. Still, no luck.
Eventually I went back to read historical information about the Loretto Sisters, knowing that my great-grandmother, also an Otero, and my great-Aunt, got their schooling from the Loretto Sisters in Santa Fe. I finally decided to simply call the Loretto community in El Paso, where I knew she spent much, if not most of her life. Someone in El Paso suggested I contact the archives at the Loretto Mother House in Kentucky. And bingo.
It turns out that Sister Mary Robert devoted 60 years of service to the El Paso Loretto community. The community celebrated her six decades of service in September 1984; a few months later, in April 1985, Sister Mary Robert passed away at the nursing home run by the Loretto Sisters, called Nazareth Hall.
Sister Mary Robert was born Eloisa Otero in Cubero, NM on March 27, 1902. I had previously learned, and the Loretto Sisters records confirm, that Eloisa was the daughter of Miguel Otero and Maria Guadalupe Jaramillo. But her parents died when she was a child, and she was raised for a few years with her Uncle Melquiades Otero (my twice-great grandfather.) So, while she was my great grandmother Eliza’s cousin, they were probably more like sisters.
Eloisa took her first vows on April 26, 1924 when she was 22 years old, and from then on, she went by Sister Mary Robert. According to a feature article about her life in 1986, Sister Mary had prayed to be missioned to some small house. Rather, her first and only assignment was to El Paso.
My mom had told me she always remembered Sister Mary being with a friend named Sister Casianita when they visited Albuquerque. Sister Casianita Heaton used to joke, according to those who interviewed her, that Sister Mary Robert always waited for her next assignment. “Yes, Robert has been here all these years – waiting for further orders,” sister Casianita said.
Sister Mary Robert described her first impression of El Paso as “a pile of sand,” probably not unlike her home village of Cubero. “We had the academy building, but that was all, and the chapel there wasn’t quite finished when I came. We used the present community room and also a study hall for a chapel.”
Sister Mary Robert spent much of her time in El Paso caring for the boarders’ dining room, according to the article about her. She eventually took over the sisters’ dining room when the academy closed.
Sister Mary Robert recalled in the article how she was “taught the ropes” by Sister Carmen, and she was initiated in the kitchen by Sister Petra. Later, she learned from Sister Felician Goebel how to “make favors, centerpieces, and to create the other special effects for graduation dinners and similar festive events.”
“A group of us once had a party in the cupola of the academy building,” Mary Robert recalled. “I don’t remember much about it except that we took a big pot of coffee all the way up there!”
When asked for an article about the number of girls for whom she provided the touches of home in the boarding school, Sister Mary Robert only smiled, saying that she had just done her job.
For the 1984 ceremony that celebrated her 60 years of service to the El Paso Loretto community, at each table rested a small cardboard shoe, filled with mints. According to the article that described the ceremony, the shoes “symbolized the thousands, perhaps millions, of steps Sister Mary Robert had walked in her six decades of work in the Loretto, El Paso, dining rooms. The sisters surprised her with liturgy and festive dinner – with roses from the garden, special songs, dining room decorations, a scroll of tributes, and Mary Robert’s favorite dishes on the menu.”