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Memories of Rudy Torrini, a Great Teacher, Friend, Mentor

Posted on November 1, 2018, by Loretto Community

By Roberta Hudlow

Above is the Rudy Torrini cross that hung in the dining room at the St. Louis Loretto Center.
(Photo by Donna Mattingly)

There is a lot to say about Rudy (Rudolph) Torrini (1923-2018). He has been connected to Loretto for quite a while. If I remember correctly, he was first hired to teach art at Nerinx Hall and then at Webster College. He certainly taught at Webster for some time. When I first came as a freshman to Webster, Helen Sanders, then dean of studies, had a lot to say about his value at Webster. I have no idea how many Sisters of Loretto he taught, but my novitiate class included three of us who had had Rudy at Webster before we went to Loretto.

Rudy was just Rudy, he didn’t act superior. He was funny and demanding at the same time. He taught us that a line could show soft and hard edges. He taught us the wonders of art history and to love Florence, Italy, without ever being there. I can still give tours of Florence, even as I sit here. There are many famous monuments there, but from Rudy we even learned of San Miniata, the church on the hill on the other side of the Arno from the Duomo and the main part of renaissance Florence. It has alabaster windows, making a golden light inside. When I got to Florence, I missed very little because of Rudy’s detail. When Kate Misbauer, Billie Vandover and I were in Florence, I insisted that we go up to the small town of Fiesole because Rudy loved the town and the view of Florence from there.

Rudy, Anne Teigen and I designed the appointments for the inside of the chapel at the then House of Studies in St. Louis, and we worked together on the relief outside the chapel while Jeanne Dueber worked on the stations of the cross and directed the stripping of the pews from our former chapel in preparation for their new finish. For the relief, Rudy would let Anne and me work only on trees and background, but we had a great time working in the studio with him. Rudy did the corpus for the chapel crucifix in direct plaster. When Rudy was working on this piece, Anne Teigen said, “Stop.” Rudy looked up at her and said, “Stop?” Anne said, “Yes,” and Rudy stopped; the work was finished.

Sculpture of Mother and Child by Rudy Torrini is located outside the Motherhouse church by the shrubs.
(Photo by Donna Mattingly)

Rudy also did the crucifix that was in the dining room and the beautiful tau crucifix that hung in room 101 at Webster and then belonged to Marita Woodruff. It came back to us when Marita died. There is a lovely stone Madonna (“Mother and Child”) in the garden by the church at Loretto Motherhouse that is wearing away as a result of the elements. I am so sorry that it has lost the lovely detail of his work. Soon it will just be a limestone lump.

There were many “in” jokes between Rudy and his students. During art history class one day, Rudy was rummaging through the desk looking for something, and he came up with a piece of tricot cotton, held it up and said, “Underwear.’’ It was underwear that was part of sisters’ usual attire, probably chosen as a dust cloth by some sister. The whole class thought it very funny; so forever, the word “underwear” would bring forth a spate of laughter from the group.

Rudy was kind and gentle, and his crazy sense of humor made his classes enjoyable and surprising. He had a way of pushing and commenting that led students to discover the importance and versatility of a line. He took great delight when he saw the light bulb go on in the brain of a student who absorbed a concept he was trying to get across. I think Rudy loved teaching as much as he enjoyed sculpting. He gently molded his students as he formed a piece of clay. We all have Rudy’s thumb marks on our character; the thumb is the greatest tool in clay modeling.

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