Remembrance of the Life of M. Concetta Torrillo SL
Sister Concetta Torrillo was born in Granite City, Ill., to Guiseppe and Concetta Gagliardo Torrillo. As a young married couple her parents had immigrated from Pietraroia, Italy. The following is Concetta’s story as told to archivist Kate Misbauer in 2010:
“My dad was Joseph and he came from Benevenicio, Italy, to New York City; later the ship he was on was bombed and sank. He worked a year, returned to Italy and married my mom. In 1913 they came here. That ship later sank. too! They did not go back to Italy!
“From New York City they went to St. Louis and my dad worked at Granite City Steel Works. I was youngest and the only girl; I was baptized Maria Maddalena Addolorata Torrillo. I had three older brothers: Terenzio, born 1916, was only three when he died of diphtheria; Philip, born 1918, died in 1940; Terenzio the second, was born in 1921 and lived until 2005. Father was hit on the head by a man at work and died Nov. 1, 1924. I was eight months old.
“After my dad died, we moved to St. Louis. My mother had a 5-year-old, a 3-year-old and me. My mother worked and we stayed with my aunt, my mother’s sister. My aunt was sickly and lived downstairs with her husband. We lived upstairs at 2817 Lafayette. I went to public school for kindergarten, then to Immaculate Conception in the City through 8th grade, taught by Sisters of Loretto. I used to help Sister Martha Euphrasia in the kindergarten. I carried the sisters’ bags from IC to Loretto Academy where they lived, so my mother said, “Maybe you should go live there!” So I felt a call starting as a child.
“My mom and Terenzio and I moved to a house on Allen and California in 1939. I went to St. Francis High School two years, then to St. Anthony’s High School for girls and graduated in 1943. The SSNDs at St. Francis thought they’d get me, but no; at St. Anthony’s the Sisters of St. Joseph wanted me, but I said no. How come an SL? Well, I went to them for eight years and it fit.
“Coming to the convent — I planned to go in October 1943 but at my physical exam the doctor told me that I better have my tonsils taken out because they were infected. I had them out, and I lost pretty much blood; I was still quite weak so I thought I better write to Mother Edwarda: ‘Whatever you think is best, that is what I will do. I am really sorry that it turned out the way it has. Please let me hear you still want me.’ Mother Edwarda told me to wait until February 1944. In my class were Sister Rosemary Grawer and Sister Rose Alice; the one other classmate left before profession because her mother objected. Aug. 15, 1944, I received the habit and took my mother’s name, Sister Concetta; I think I am the only one still living who wears the complete Loretto habit.
“Professed on Dec. 8, 1946, I went to Lafayette, then Immaculate Conception, Maplewood, a suburb of St. Louis. Mother Edwarda sent me to the Motherhouse to help in the Infirmary in 1948; I made beds, helped in the new St. Joseph’s building when it was first opened. Ten months I was there. I went to Santa Fe and taught at St. Francis Cathedral School 1949-50; then Las Vegas old town, 1951-53; El Paso, 1953-54 at Sacred Heart; Taos 1954-60 at St. Joseph School. I asked Mother Edwarda if something was wrong since I was changed so often; she said, ‘No, we know you will go wherever we send you!’ I thought everyone did that!
“The first 10 years I taught middle grades. I went back to Santa Fe, 1960-64, and from then on, I taught primary grades. I went to St. Mary’s, Sterling, Ill., 1964-68; Immaculate Conception, Highland Park, 1968-70; Lafayette in St. Louis, 1970-71, in charge of nursery school. I taught second and third grade at St. Ferdinand in Florissant 1971-80, lived one year at Mary Queen of Peace with Sister Francie Ann and began tutoring at the Loretto Tutoring Center at 590 in Webster Groves. I moved to 590 to live in 1981 and continued tutoring until 1991.”
Sister Concetta doesn’t mention in her autobiography that she completed a bachelor’s degree in elementary education at Loretto Heights College in 1964 at the end of 13 summers of study. After that she spent her summers nursing in a Loretto infirmary or teaching reading in summer vacation schools. Altogether she taught and tutored young children for 44 years. She said proudly, “I still get letters from girls I taught in Santa Fe and in Sterling.”
Concetta was especially proud of her family and her Italian ancestry. She wrote: “My brother Terenzio used to come to Lafayette when I lived there, and I’d see my mom on Thursdays. She died while I was at Lafayette, on my birthday. … I went to Italy for three weeks in 1971 — went to seven countries. My mother always hoped I could see Italy! I went to the church where she was baptized, and met my cousins. I went back seven times! In 1994 for my Golden Jubilee I got a papal blessing.”
Sister Concetta was an avid Bingo player. For many years she was a regular at the Tuesday Bingo at the Elks Club in South St. Louis County. She organized weekly Bingo on Wednesday mornings for the Loretto Center residents while she resided there. Through these efforts, she raised several thousand dollars for the Loretto Hunger Fund. Concetta also is known for playing the lottery; she once won $55,000 which she donated to the Loretto Community in support of its retirement fund. She often used lesser winnings to buy new linen items for the Loretto Center chapel and to pay for weekly bakery donuts for breakfast and monthly afternoon ice cream socials for Center residents.
In April of 2013, the St. Louis Loretto Community celebrated Concetta’s 32 years of life and community service at the Loretto Center. Soon after, Concetta moved to the Infirmary at Loretto Motherhouse in Kentucky. A passionate St. Louis Cardinals fan, her great sorrow in Kentucky was that she could watch her favorite baseball team only when a game was broadcast on ESPN or when the Cardinals were in the World Series.
Sister Concetta died at the Motherhouse Infirmary Feb. 1, 2016, in the 72nd year of her life of willing service as a Sister of Loretto.
— By Eleanor Craig SL