Sis­ter seeks protection for old cam­pus ceme­tery

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Monte Wha­ley

Year by year, the team of guardians of the 62 Sis­ters of Loretto buried at the Colorado Heights Univer­sity cam­pus in south­west Den­ver dwin­dles.

That’s why there is a sense of ur­gency to Sis­ter Mary Nelle Gage’s quest to seek per­ma­nent protection and care for the burial site. It’s there that the re­mains of three founders of the old Lo- retto Heights Academy — which started as a Catholic high school for girls in 1888 — now rest.

She and oth­ers worry that plans to sell the 76-acre Colorado Heights cam­pus not only will en­dan­ger the in­sti­tu­tion’s his­toric chapel and ad­min­is­tra­tion build­ing but also the ceme­tery.

Colorado Heights of­fi­cials have as­sured Sis­ter Gage that a sale would be

con­tin­gent on al­low­ing both the his­toric struc­tures and the ceme­tery to re­main.

In fact, Colorado Heights of­fi­cials have of­fered to donate the ceme­tery to the Sis­ters of Loretto.

How­ever, she wants to en­sure there’s a per­ma­nent main­te­nance ar­range­ment for the ceme­tery as well as buf­fers around the site, which cov­ers less than 1 acre.

There are fewer than 150 Sis­ters of Loretto, she said, and nearly all are age 70 or older.

“We won’t be able to look over the ceme­tery for much longer,” said Sis­ter Gage, 73. “We need some­thing in per­pe­tu­ity, some­thing that will al­low those whose lives were spent in lov­ing prayer and ser­vice to Loretto can re­main in peace.”

Some of the women’s bod­ies were buried in the tidy, un­adorned ceme­tery more than 100 years ago. They in­clude teach­ers, col­lege in­struc­tors, pro­fes­sors and ad­min­is­tra­tors who fu­eled Lo- retto Heights Academy and later Loretto Heights Col­lege.

Also in­terred there is Mother Pan­cra­tia Bon­fils, a rel­a­tive of Fred­er­ick Bon­fils, early co-owner of The Den­ver Post. Mother Bon­fils chose the site for Loretto Heights and su­per­vised con­struc­tion of the ad­min­is­tra­tion build­ing and chapel.

No po­ten­tial buy­ers have been iden­ti­fied for the Colorado Heights cam­pus, which rests atop Sheridan Hill.

Colorado Heights is part of Ja­pan-based Teikyo Univer­sity group, which bought the cam­pus in 1989.

As many as 500 stu­dents were en­rolled at the univer­sity in Novem­ber, when closure plans were an­nounced.

A com­bi­na­tion of fac­tors led to the de­ci­sion to close the cam­pus, in­clud­ing a move by the U.S. De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion to deny recog­ni­tion of the ac­cred­it­ing author­ity of the Ac­cred­it­ing Coun­cil of In­de­pen­dent Col­leges and Schools. That group ac­cred­its Colorado Heights’ aca­demic progress.

Low en­roll­ment also played a fac­tor in the school’s demise.

Neigh­bors worry a new owner will build high-den­sity hous­ing that will add traf­fic con­ges­tion. Sev­eral area res­i­dents gath­ered at a meet­ing late last week and of­fered sug­ges­tions for re­pur­pos­ing the prop­erty, in­clud­ing turn­ing it into a re­cre­ation cen­ter, an arts com­plex or an ed­u­ca­tional an­nex.

Den­ver City Coun­cil­man Kevin Flynn told the res­i­dents the par­cel is zoned for condo-style devel­op­ment and up to 60 per­cent of the land can be used for hous­ing.

But any move by a new buyer to tear down or al­ter the site’s his­toric build­ings would be met with quick, of­fi­cial re­sis­tance, Flynn said. That in­cludes im­me­di­ately fil­ing for a his­toric land­mark sta­tus for the tar­geted struc­tures.

He also as­sured Gage, who for decades worked to help refugees from the Viet­nam War, that the ceme­tery would not be dis­turbed by any devel­op­ment.

“I feel cer­tain that no one will have to dig up your pre­de­ces­sors,” Flynn said. “I don’t want to spend any more time in pur­ga­tory.”

RJ San­gosti, The Den­ver Post

Sis­ter Mary Nelle Gage is con­cerned about plans to sell Den­ver’s Colorado Heights Univer­sity cam­pus, above.

Cour­tesy of Den­ver Pub­lic Li­brary Western His­tory/Ge­neal­ogy Dept.

Dur­ing World War I, the Loretto Heights fa­cil­ity also served as a ser­vice camp train­ing cen­ter.

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