The funeral Mass for Loretto Sister Mary Agnes Richter was celebrated Feb. 23 at the Church of the Seven Dolors at the Loretto Motherhouse in Nerinx, Ky. Sister Mary Agnes was a longtime special-education teacher who helped to create a special needs classroom long before it became standard practice in the field of special education.
Sister Mary Agnes died Feb. 10 at Loretto Motherhouse Infirmary. She was 93 and in the 75th year of her life as a Sister of Loretto at the Foot of the Cross.
Born in Las Vegas and baptized Emma Marian Richter, she entered the Sisters of Loretto in 1943 and was received into the congregation later that year. Sister Mary Agnes made first vows in 1945 and final vows in 1949. She earned a bachelor's degree in education, with minors in Spanish and history, in 1957 from Loretto Heights College in Denver. She earned a master's degree in special education in 1967 from Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee.
Sister Mary Agnes taught at Immaculate Conception School in Maplewood from 1958-60. In 1960, 15 years before Congress passed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, which guaranteed a free, appropriate education in the least restrictive environment for children with special learning needs, Sister Mary Agnes began working with Msgr. Elmer Behrmann to create a classroom at St. Pius V School in St. Louis. There, children with special needs received individualized instruction while participating as much as possible in playground and lunchroom activities and other aspects of school life with their peers. From 1960-80, Sister Mary Agnes developed and administered the special classroom curriculum and mentored younger teachers working with children with special needs. In 1973, she was named a special-education teacher with the St. Louis Archdiocese. In 1975, when the "least restrictive environment" law was passed, she was hired by both St. Louis University and Fontbonne College to organize and conduct special-education courses for teachers.
Sister Mary Agnes served at St. Margaret Learning Center in St. Louis from 1977-80, teaching children with mental disabilities and children with learning disabilities. She returned to St. Pius V School in 1988 as a teacher and in 1989 was named coordinator of learning disabilities and special education. She served as principal of St. Barnabas Learning Center in O'Fallon from 1990-91.
Sister Mary Agnes taught in public and parish grade schools in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas. Retiring from teaching in 1996, she moved to Loretto Motherhouse, but continued to prepare children for their First Communion in Texas. She moved in 2013 to Loretto Motherhouse Infirmary. She was buried in the Loretto Motherhouse Cemetery.