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Miraculous staircase undoubtedly built by Saint Joseph the Worker, miraculous staircase in the chapel of the Loreto Sisters


A permanent miracle took place in New Mexico, that which is beyond architectural explanation. Early in the history of time, many people have actually worked for the salvation of souls - the American Southwest is marked by divine and sincerely fearless adventures of fervent souls seeking to spread Jesus' Kingdom. The fervour of their faith and contributions is made visible in the convents, chapels, and schools they founded—and sometimes in the miracles God worked through them.

The Loretto Sisters and their Chapel

In 1853, four Sisters of Loretto came to settle at the Foot of the Cross in Santa Fe, after three months of strenuous journey by river and rail from Kentucky. Bishop John Baptiste Lamy of Santa Fe requested they settle in his diocese and they opened a school for girls.

After 10 years of their stay in Santa Fe, the community decided to build a Chapel for a better accommodation. The sisters started constructing a new chapel, dedicated to Our Lady of Light. With its lancet arches and stained glass windows, it was to be similar to the old luminous splendour in medieval Europe under the inspiration of the same Catholic Faith that the nuns were promoting in New Mexico.

But as the building reached completion, the sisters were confronted with a dilemma.

Because of its length of 75 ft. and breath of the 25ft., with height of 85 ft, a staircase to the choir-loft could not be built according to the general patterns. The architect championing the project had died, and the original plan could not be found. Many carpenters and building specialists consulted for a solution did not know what to propose.

There was even talk of pulling down the choir loft. But nuns are known for their dauntless faith and trusting recourse to heaven when natural means fail. They decided to make a novena to Saint Joseph the Worker - the Carpenter of Nazareth.

A Carpenter arrives...

As soon as the novena was completed, a man knocked at the Convent door. He had heard of their predicament, he explained, and, being a carpenter, he came to offer his help.

The sisters quickly jumped on his offer.
With the few basic tools - a Saw, a Hammer and a T-square, which he brought with him on his Donkey, he began to work.

Labouring silently and tirelessly, the strange carpenter soon finished a beautiful spiral staircase. Made wholly of wood held together with wooden pegs, no nails, no screws. It ascends to the choir-attic in two 360-degree turns with no central axis or pillar for support.

He finished the essential part of the staircase—everything except the handrail—the carpenter departed before the sisters could pay him, and never returned.

The Mother Superior tried to locate him in the area, but her efforts were futile—No one knew this man. She went to the local lumber yard to pay for the wood but they knew nothing of such an Order. The grateful sisters, though disappointed that the carpenter had slipped away, were not surprised; had they not prayed to Saint Joseph?

Mystery of the miraculous staircase built by Saint Joseph the Worker

The Mystery

Carpenters, Architects, even construction experts were puzzled at the sight of the staircase with no central axis or support. They troop into the Chapel in numbers, wondering how the staircase would have withstood even the first usage. The miraculous staircase keep being used actively by the Sisters and Pupils for a century.

These experts also admired the structural perfection of its design, obtained solely with manual skill and simple tools. They were uncertain at the wood used, unknown to them and the area.

A very big part of the staircase may have added to the ponderings of the specialists or may have been ignored, but the sisters noticed and understood it completely. The staircase has 33 steps, significantly corresponding to the “perfect age” at which Our Lord expired on the cross for our redemption.

In 1968, due in part to the crisis occasioned by progressivism, then already taking a serious toll on the Church’s religious communities, the Sisters of Loretto reduced their activities in Santa Fe. The School of Our Lady of Light closed its doors. Its building, sold three years later, was remodelled to a hotel.

The chapel stood still, but now a museum. Visitors, purchase tickets to enter the chapel, listen to a recorded history as they contemplate its interior. While curiosity and analysis lead many to admiration and piety, unbelievers are left in silent wonder.

In 1984 Professor Mary J. Straw published a comprehensive study on the chapel entitled, Loretto, the Sisters, and their Santa Fe Chapel. And tourist guides still point to the chapel as the site of a miraculous staircase.

Whatever the present status of the chapel, the staircase stands in silent and admirable witness to the faith and efforts of those pioneering sisters who dedicated their lives to raising hearts and minds to God.

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