New Mexico Historical Marker: Mother Magdalen and the Sisters of Loretto


This marker is located in the downtown area of Santa Fe at the intersection of East Alameda Street and Old Santa Fe Trail. The marker commemorates Mother Magdalen Hayden and Sisters Roberta Brown, Rosana Dant and Catherine Mahoney, who established the Our Lady of Light Academy (which became known as Loretto). This was the first school for young women in the New Mexico Territory.

The Sisters also worked with the local people to raise funds from 1863 to 1879 to build the Loretto Chapel, which is known for its “miraculous staircase”, which is a marvel of construction because it has no visible means of support.


Over the following century, hundreds of women, many who were of Hispanic decent, joined the Sisters of Loretto. The first native-born New Mexican superior of Loretto was Lucia Perea, who took over this position in 1896.

A note on the “A Catholic Mission” site provides a bit more information about Mother Magdalen:

“Joanna Hayden took on the name of Sister Magdalen Hayden when she took her vows to the Loretto Order in 1834. After spending time in Loretto, KY, Cape Girardeau and Bethlehem, MO, she entered the western missions.  In 1852, Sister Magdalen and a group of Loretto Sisters left the Kentucky Mother house for Santa Fe.  In route, the mother superior of the group died of cholera in Independence, MO.  Sister Magdalene became Mother Magdalene.  Mother Magdalene’s time in Santa Fe is well documented as the founder of several Catholic schools and the Superior of the Our Lady of Light Academy in Santa Fe, also known as the Loretto Academy.  The Loretto Academy in Santa Fe is very well known for the spiral staircase built during her time.”


Location: 35° 41.093′ N, 105° 56.279′ W

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