Published August 23, 2018
FENTON, Mo.—Sister Loretta Costa, CSJ, died June 10 at St. Clare Hospital in Fenton, Missouri. She was 94.
Sister Loretta, baptized Mary Elizabeth, was born Sept. 28, 1923, in Athens, to parents Lawrence Charles and Loretta C. (Callahan) Costa. She was the oldest daughter of four children. Her father ran the family ice cream business that went under during the Great Depression.
She entered the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet on Sept. 18, 1939, and was received into the novitiate on March 19, 1940. She told The Georgia Bulletin in a 2010 article that the Sisters of Mercy teachers at her boarding school, Mount de Sales Academy in Macon, were her inspiration.
“They were incredible women and we were bad,” Sister Loretta said, tearing up. They said, “You go where your heart leads you.”
She received a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1961 and a master’s degree in sociology from St. Louis University, St. Louis, Missouri, in 1970.
Sister Loretta served much of her 75 years in both educational and healthcare ministries—many of those years in her beloved home of Georgia.
Her first teaching assignment in 1942 was at the now-closed St. Joseph Orphanage in Washington, Georgia, and she taught in seven schools, from Savannah and Atlanta to Champaign, Ill. She eventually moved into school administration, but always insisted she get a classroom assignment at the same time.
From the 1940s to 60s, she taught at schools in Georgia including: Sacred Heart School in Savannah (1942-49), St. Francis Xavier School in Brunswick (1949-50, 1956-57, 1960-66), St. John the Evangelist School in Valdosta (1950-54), Sacred Heart School in Milledgeville (1954-56), St. Anthony School in Atlanta (1957-60) and St. Mary on the Hill School in Augusta (1966-67). She served in Champaign, Illinois, at Holy Cross School as principal and teacher until 1975, then in St. Louis as the principal at St. Luke the Evangelist for two years.
From 1977 to 1984, Sister Loretta served in the leadership of the Sisters of St. Joseph as regional superior and provincial councilor.
Following her time in leadership, Sister Loretta returned to Georgia to serve in healthcare ministries including: dietitian at the Village of St. Joseph in Atlanta (1984-87) and geriatric care administrator at St. Thomas Personal Care Home in East Point (1988-89) and St. Teresa Manor in Riverdale (1989-90).
In the 1990s, Sister Loretta served in administration, first as the development coordinator for the Archdiocese of Atlanta school office, then as regional development director for the Southern Regional Development.
She also volunteered as a reader for the blind at Georgia Radio Reading Service, Inc., Atlanta.
She retired in 2006. In 2013, she moved from Georgia to St. Louis to carry out her ministry of prayer and witness, residing at Nazareth Living Center until 2017 and then Laclede Groves Senior Living.
Sister Loretta shared a special friendship with the great American storyteller, Flannery O’Connor. She enjoyed telling her story of the experience and being a part of keeping O’Connor’s literary heritage alive.
She told The Georgia Bulletin that during her time teaching at a 50-student school in Milledgeville, she befriended the young author and became O’Connor’s piano teacher for two years. She also read for O’Connor, getting the first peek at the renowned short stories, “A Good Man Is Hard To Find” and “Everything That Rises Must Converge.”
Of her lifelong ministry as a sister, Sister Loretta said, “I feel very, very blessed. (It wasn’t) always easy, but good. Hands down, wonderful.”
A memorial Mass was celebrated June 18 at the Nazareth Living Center Chapel in St. Louis.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, St. Louis Province, 6400 Minnesota Ave., St. Louis, MO 63111-2899.