By Melanie Ward
Loretto College, El Paso, is one of the most prestigious educational establishments in the state of Texas. It owes its existence to the vision of a woman from west Cavan – Mother Praxedes.
Mother Praxedes was born Susan Carty, in Bawnboy in 1854, to Mark Carty, a miller, and his wife Ellen, one of eleven children. As a young girl in Bawnboy, Susan acted as a guide to a blind beggar woman called Moira, after she heard the Parish Priest say that to serve God was to serve others.
By 1874 Susan had made her decision, and she took her vows as a Novice with the Sisters of Loretto at Kentucky on July 16. She was given the name Sister Praxedes.
Shortly after taking her vows, Sister Praxedes became ill with tuberculosis and on medical advice she was sent to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where it was hoped the climate would help her condition. Her health improved and she became fluent in Spanish and took her final vows.
In 1878 Sister Praxedes was given responsibility for a school in Bernalillo, educating young girls and planting gardens to make the order self-sufficient. She was so successful at this that two years later she was made Mother Praxedes, and appointed to another Loretto Academy in Las Cruces, which was ailing and debt ridden.
Mother Praxedes began fundraising by organising bazaars, fairs and sales and, just had she had done at Bernalillo, planted vegetable gardens that ensured the self-sufficiency of the order.
After improving the school, she turned her attention to fundraising for the restoration of St Genevieves Church, which was rebuilt in 1886. When Mother Praxedes left Las Cruces after thirteen years, she was hailed as one of the most beloved leaders the community had ever known.
Her commitment to education, hard work and self-sufficiency, along with the business sense she had acquired when working at Hilliker’s, made her a natural ‘trouble-shooter’, and the ideal candidate to run schools.
Mother Praxedes was appointed to head Loretto schools in Missouri and Colorado, and in 1896 she was called back to Kentucky and appointed Superior General of the Sisters of Loretto, a position she was to hold for twenty-six years.
She worked tirelessly for her order, travelling to Rome three times to meet with the Pope, dispatching Loretto nuns to nurse the sick during an influenza epidemic and overseeing the establishment of 51 Loretto academies.
In 1916, Mother Praxedes oversaw the construction of the first women’s Catholic College in the American West, Loretto College in Missouri, and planned the first foreign mission of the Loretto Order – to China.
After retiring as Superior General in 1922, Mother Praxedes moved to the border town of El Paso to help build Loretto Academy. By September 1923 the convent building, known as Praxedes Hall, was finished, but it was to be another thirteen years before the Academy was completed.
In 1924 work began on the Chapel. Mother Praxedes planned it to stand between the convent and the school, looking towards El Paso and across the border to Mexico and the city of Juarez, reflecting her desire to offer education to girls from both countries
Mother Praxedes went to St Louis in 1931 to raise an $80,000 loan to complete the project but while she was there she fell and broke her hip. She was able to return to El Paso, and although confined to bed continued to direct operations before dying on December 16, 1933.
The Priest who celebrated her funeral Mass told the congregation “Her chosen field was education, and she was one of the finest souls to see the necessity of higher education for women.”
The Loretto Academy at El Paso was completed in 1937, three years after Mother Praxedes’ death.
In 2001 Sister Praxedes was inducted into the El Paso County Historical Society Hall of Honor. In 2012 the President of the Loretto Academy, wrote that “Loretto Academy is proof of her breadth of vision and building genius.”