Long-time Alaskan and member of the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood, Sister Loretta Luecke, died May 22 at Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage after struggling with a heart related infection. She was 82.
Sister Luecke made her first vows to religious life in 1955, in St. Louis, Missouri, along with her life-long friend Sister Joan Oberle. The two religious sisters have lived together and served in the Archdiocese of Anchorage for the past 26 years.
Over her 61 years of religious life, Sister Luecke saw many changes.
In 2015, she and Sister Oberle spoke with the Catholic Anchor on the occasion of their 60th anniversary in religious life.
As grade-schoolers, Sisters Luecke and Oberle became interested in religious life, specifically, as Sisters of the Most Precious Blood of O’Fallon, Missouri. The congregation was founded in Steinerberg, Switzerland in 1845, as a contemplative community. When the Swiss government prohibited all strictly contemplative orders, the congregation’s sisters began working in a parish school. The congregation later moved into the United States and South America.
The focus on teaching appealed to Sister Luecke.
As a child, “I played school all the time,” she told the Anchor in 2015. But the sisters’ habit was perhaps the biggest draw.
“The habit was important to me,” Sister Luecke recalled. “I really like the way they looked and how they taught.”
The first sisters who came to teach at her school so impressed her that in fifth grade, Sister Luecke had made up her mind.
In 1952, as 12th graders at St. Elizabeth Academy in St. Louis, the two young women entered the congregation. They finished their schooling at the congregation’s motherhouse in O’Fallon.
They began teaching children — kindergarteners through eighth-graders — at Catholic schools across Missouri, Illinois, Nebraska, Minnesota and Colorado. Sister Luecke’s specialty was language arts.
In 1990, there was an opening for a sister in Alaska (the congregation previously had a contingent here in the 1980s).
“Neither one of us wanted to be up here by ourselves,” Sister Luecke noted.
With the help of Father Ernest Muellerleile, who had known the sisters since the novitiate, and Father Stan Allie, then at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in South Anchorage, both sisters came to Anchorage.
“Father Stan always said we came as a package,” Sister Luecke recalled.
Meanwhile, the congregation was changing; its sisters started working in areas outside parochial schools. From 1990 to 2002 Sister Luecke served as faith formation coordinator and director of parish life at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. In 2002, she moved to Holy Cross, where she served up until her death.
Of all her work, Sister Luecke looked back most fondly on her years as a teacher.
“My teaching years would be number one,” she said.
Sister Luecke was troubled by the loss of robust faith formation that she observed in the 1960s and 1970s. In particular she was concerned with the formation of Catholic youth.
It troubled her that children’s religion books omitted some basic principles of the faith. So she and Sister Oberle decided that one day a week, they would teach those missing main points.
“Today, I still know all that stuff because I learned it in school,” she said in the 2015 interview. “But you ask the modern child today, they don’t.”
Ever the teacher, Sister Luecke noted: “That’s how I was brought up, what I taught all my life. I wanted the children to know what their religion was.”
Although her work changed over the years, Sister Luecke still had a heart for nurturing. Administrative meetings at Holy Cross were more like mini-retreats. Sister Luecke asked church staff members to spend in-between weeks reflecting on a virtue or quality — like patience — and also to look for people who act in a Christ-like manner. Her point was to “strengthen how we can be.”