On March 19, 1888, Mother Pancratia Bonfils (a cousin to the prominent Bonfils family), superior of the academy and alumna of St. Mary’s Academy, sought to start a new academy, far from the expanding “downtown” Denver area. Mother Pancratia and the other sisters chose a hilltop site approximately seven miles southwest of Denver with a stunning panoramic view, which they called “Loretto Heights.” From this view, the sisters could see the Platte River to the east where miners had left their mark, and Fort Logan to the southwestBeyond that, “the view was uninterrupted by any habitation of man.”
Soon after, architect Frank Edbrooke was contracted to design the main academic building, and construction began in 1890. By November 2, 1891, the sisters and pupils were moving into the new building. Despite minor difficulties (lack of water and electricity, as they were so far from downtown), by 1892 all was under control and the sisters settled in.
The growth of Loretto Heights continued, with the sisters developing a rich curriculum, until they were threatened with foreclosure in 1894 after the Panic of 1893. Thankfully, Mother Superior Praxades Carty was able to save the academy from foreclosure and the academy continued on. Through the many struggles the academy faced, it was able to overcome and adapt to the constantly changing times. When World War I erupted, the sisters turned Loretto Heights Academy into a military training ground and held a National Service School. By 1926, Loretto Heights had gained its college accreditation, and Mother Superior Eustachia Elder was organizing the separation of the college and high school.
The Great Depression and World War II could not shake the deeply-rooted Loretto Heights College. Loretto Heights College contributed to the war effort and in 1945 created joint collegiate nursing programs to meet the growing desire amongst women for economic independence in the postwar era. In the face of the social changes and events happening around them (new technology, the women’s movement for equality, the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War), tradition and morals at Loretto Heights remained consistent, while it simultaneously worked to cope and adapt to societal changes. Loretto Heights College was the first school in the area to establish a Women’s Studies Research Center. In 1971, it pioneered the University Without Walls program with 12 other colleges across the nation – a program designed to help adult learners earn bachelor’s degrees, with flexible schedules, skills learned through life experience counting as credit hours towards a degree, and more practical courses.
Although the sisters lived a relatively austere life on the plains, they sought out some of Denver’s best architects to design the buildings on the campus. Frank Edbrooke designed the original 1890 Administration Building and the attached 1911 Chapel. In 1928, the sisters commissioned Harry Edbrooke to design the first free-standing dormitory, naming it Pancratia Hall after the founding mother.
As the campus grew, new dorms were added, and in 1960 Denver architect John K. Monroe designed the Machenbeuf Building, which was used as the student union and cafeteria. Monroe was also responsible for designing the Lowenstein Theater on Colfax Avenue (now home to the Tattered Cover). In 1963, the campus added a dedicated library and theater, designed by G. Meredith Musick. Musick was a well-known local architect who designed the First Baptist Church at 14th and Grant, the Bryant-Webster Elementary School, Fitzsimmons Army Hospital and Lowry Air Force Base.
In 1988, Loretto Heights shut its doors, but three of its degree programs live on at Regis University in north Denver. In Loretto’s place, a new institution emerged: Teikyo Loretto Heights University, which catered to international students looking to complete a degree program or learn English in an immersive environment.
In 2012, Denver Public Schools (DPS) began leasing six acres on the southern end of the historic campus to house the Denver School of Science and Technology’s College View campus. In the spring of 2017, DPS bought these six acres.