The funeral Mass for Sister Loretta Joseph (Mary Elizabeth) Costa, CSJ, was celebrated June 18 at Nazareth Living Center Chapel in south St. Louis County. Sister Loretta died June 10 at St. Clare Hospital in Fenton. She was 94 and had been a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet for 78 years.
Born Sept. 28, 1923, in Athens, Ga., and baptized Mary Elizabeth, she entered the CSJ community on Sept. 18, 1939, was received into the novitiate on March 19, 1940, and made final profession on Aug. 15, 1945. She earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology in 1961 from the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minn., and a master’s in sociology in 1970 from Saint Louis University.
Sister Loretta served in education and health-care ministries, with most of that service in her beloved home state of Georgia.
She was a teacher or principal in Georgia 1942-67. She befriended famed American storyteller Flannery O’Connor, whom she first met in boarding school in the 1930s and with whom she reconnected on assignment as a teacher in Milledgeville in 1954. She gave O’Connor piano lessons, edited several of her books and maintained a friendship until O’Connor’s death in 1964.
“Flannery was a very spiritual woman,” Sister Loretta once said. “A Catholic growing up in the Baptist South, she was very traditional. She loved the Church but hated the changes. She always loved her Catholic faith and it was part and parcel of who she was. … Flannery was a big part of my life. I treasure that. I feel very blessed and very privileged to have known her and to say she was my friend.”
After teaching for 25 years in Georgia, Sister Loretta served the next 19 years ministering out of state — first as principal 1967-75 at Holy Cross School in Champaign, Ill., then for 11 years in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. She was principal 1975-77 at St. Luke the Evangelist School in Richmond Heights, then was regional superior and provincial councilor for the St. Joseph Provincialate 1977-84.
In 1984, Sister Loretta returned to Georgia and served in health-care ministries. In the 1990s, she 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 in Atlanta.
She retired in 2006. In 2013, she moved to St. Louis to carry out a ministry of prayer and witness, residing at Nazareth Living Center until 2017 and then Laclede Groves Senior Living.