Charles Nerinckx

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Charles Nerinckx, contemporary portrait

Rev. Charles Nerinckx (2 October 1761, Herfelingen – 12 August 1824) was a Roman Catholic missionary priest who migrated from Belgium to work in Kentucky. He founded the Sisters of Loretto religious order.

Early life and education[edit]

The son of Dr. Sebastian and Petronilla Langendries Nerinckx, Charles Nerinckx was born 2 October 1761 in Herfelingen, Belgium. Nerinckx was educated at the University of Leuven and, upon completion of his theological training at the theological seminary of Mechelen, was ordained a priest in 1785.[1]

He became vicar at the cathedral of Mechelen, where he was noted for his zeal among the working classes. In 1794 he obtained the pastoral charge of Everberg-Meerbeek (today part of the municipality of Kortenberg). When the army of the French Republic invaded Belgium in 1797, it persecuted Catholic priests in a move to decrease the power of the church, as it had in France. An order for Nerinckx's arrest was issued, and the priest went into hiding for the next four years. He fled in disguise to the city of Dendermonde and hid in the chapel of St. Blase, where he served as a chaplain.[2]

Father Charles Nerinckx's cabin at the Loretto Motherhouse in Nerinx, Kentucky.[3]

Nerinckx immigrated to the United States in 1804. Bishop John Carroll assigned him to assist Rev. Stephen Badin, the only priest in Kentucky, in 1805. The district given to his charge was over two hundred miles in length and covered nearly half the state. Nerinckx organized new congregations and oversaw the building of churches. Word of Nerinckx’s efforts reached the Holy See. The Pope sought to appoint him Bishop of New Orleans, but Nerinckx refused the honor.[1]

With a focus on Catholic education, Nerickx founded the Sisters of Loretto as a teaching order in 1812. It was formally designated the Friends of Mary at the Foot of the Cross.[4] Nerinckx also founded the first congregation of black Catholic nuns in the United States in 1824. They were a separate community from the Sisters of Loretto, and later disbanded.

Father Charles Nerinckx's grave at the Loretto Motherhouse in Nerinx, Kentucky.

Nerinckx died at Ste. Genevieve, Missouri on 12 August 1824.[1]

Legacy and honors[edit]

Nerinx Hall, a private secondary school for girls, was founded by the Sisters of Loretto in 1924 in Webster Groves, Missouri and named in honor of Nerinckx.


  1. ^ a b c Maes, Camillus. "Charles Nerinckx." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 20 Sept. 2015
  2. ^ Schauinger, J. Herman: Cathedrals in the Wilderness, page 32. Milwaukee, WI: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1952
  3. ^ Rev Charles Nerinckx at Find a Grave
  4. ^ Herbermann at 235.

Further reading[edit]

  • Herbermann, Charles G., LL.D. Life of Rev. Charles Nerinckx: Book Review in Historical Records and Studies: Volume 9, by United States Catholic Historical Society. New York: United States Catholic Historical Society (1916) at p. 227-236. (A review of Howlett's book which gives roughly detailed outline of Nerinckx's life)
  • Howlett, Rev. W.J. Life of Rev. Charles Nerinckx, Pioneer Missionary of Kentucky and Founder of the Sisters of Loretto. (8 vo.) (1915) also known as Life of Rev. Charles Nerinckx: pioneer missionary of Kentucky and founder of the Sisters at the Foot of the Cross 447pp. Mission Press S.V.D. (1915)
  • Maes, Rev. Camillus Paul. The life of Rev. Charles Nerinckx: with a chapter on early Catholic missions of Kentucky; copious notes on the progress of Catholicity in the United States of America, from 1800–1825; an account of the establishment of the Society of Jesus in Missouri; and an historical sketch of the Sisterhood of Loretto in Kentucky, Missouri, New Mexico, Etc. (full title) 635pp. Cincinnati: R. Clarke & Co. (1880).

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Charles Nerinckx". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton.