Sisters of Charity Federation Archives

Gentile, Sr. Nanette, D.C. Oral History


Gentile, Sr. Nannette.jpg


I am Sister Nanette Gentile. I was born September 10, 1933 to Sarah and Peter Gentile. I am the oldest
of three girls, Kathleen who is now Mrs. Ed Sheridan and Patricia who is now Mrs. David Hurst. A threeyear-old boy was born after me and he died of meningitis so that was a sad time in our family.
So, tell us a little bit about your childhood. You have no living brothers; you grew up with sisters.
I grew up in a very happy household. My mother and dad were always there for us as were my
grandparents. We lived with my grandparents and we did things together and had fun together and I
remember even taking a long trip to New York for the World’s Fair. I was in an organdy dress – that was
not comfortable, but I remember it. [laughter]
You remember the dress and then you ended up wearing the big hat! Do you have other childhood
memories that you can think of?
My mother had a very large family. She had three sisters and four brothers and I grew up with them. At
every holiday we celebrated together. At Christmas time we played poker until the wee hours of the
morning on New Year’s Eve. We danced together. I learned to dance at every Italian wedding there
was. I felt like I had a very happy childhood, very grateful for it.
Imagine the Italian weddings. Were there other Italian customs and things that you grew up with that
were particularly important?
Well, I remember at Christmas time, at the end of Advent – because we always fasted – we had certain
rituals. Before midnight Mass, we would have little panini with little fishes in them, and then after
Midnight Mass, we had meat in them. There was always something special that my grandmothers
made. My grandniece got married a year ago and at her wedding, I said, “Where’s the pecans, the
covered pecans that the Italians always had?” She didn’t have those. So we had all those little rituals. It
was good.
Some are being carried on in the next generation, some, not all.
What about your vocation story? How did you meet the Daughters and were you young…?”
Well, I went to a public school for my first six years of education. Then I transferred to St. Philip Neri
School [in St. Louis] for seventh and eighth grades, and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet taught at
that school. I enjoyed school, and I enjoyed my family. We’d go to Mass at St. Philip Neri on Sunday,
and the Daughters of Charity taught at a high school near us, Labouré High School. They would come to
their second Mass at St. Philip Neri ,and I would see them in the cornette and say, “I would never be
caught dead wearing that!”
I went to Labouré High School, I joined the Legion of Mary, and I did my service projects going with the
Sisters to visit the chronic hospital in St. Louis, and I learned that there were very poor people. So I
wanted to give my life to helping people. I became a postulant in 1951 and I was at St. Philomena’s in
St. Louis. In December – in those days we had a very short postulancy – I transferred and became a
Seminary Sister at Marillac Provincial House.

Did you come to the Daughters right after high school?
I came to the Daughters in August, right after high school.
So you went to the Seminary…
And spent a year as a novice. And then at the end of that, I was asked to study to prepare for getting a
college degree. So they sent me to my very first mission, St. Patrick School in LaSalle, Illinois and I taught
the fourth and fifth grade.
And you didn’t receive your degree yet? You went right out to teach. Is that correct?
Right. I was in the process of getting the degree but didn’t have it yet. And in fact, after two years they
sent me to St. Vincent School in Perryville, Missouri, so I could ride on Saturdays to St. Louis so that I
could take courses at Marillac College.
Quite a few Sisters did that as well as well, I think, did they not?
Yes, I always had company in the car. One of the older boys of the parish drove us every Saturday, very
faithful to picking us up and bringing us home. In Perryville I taught fourth and fifth grade but also the
eighth grade boys. The custom was in Lent on Fridays we would take the kids to the seminary church
which was down the block and go to Stations [of the Cross]. Well, I began with maybe thirty boys and
ended up with five, because they would all run away! [laughter] I loved my missions and I loved both
Eventually I became a full-time student. They sent me to Montreal to study French and then I also
studied Spanish at St. Louis University, and I taught at Marillac College for twelve years.
Why did they ask you to go into languages?
Because they needed a language teacher, and I happened to be good at it when I was taking my
preparatory courses at Marillac College. At home I heard Italian. I didn’t have an academic knowledge of
Italian, but I heard it, so I was comfortable. I had an ear for languages.
I remember one funny event, it wasn’t so funny then, in Montreal. The people weren’t used to the
Sisters. There were a lot of Sisters – it was a Catholic population – but they weren’t used to the
cornette. I had to take four buses to get to the University of Montreal and they would call me Sputnik
and Dumbo the Elephant. I remember that. I learned a lot because the Sisters only spoke French. I feel
like I’m more fluent in French because I really had to navigate. I had to do it.
After that, when I came back, I was still studying at the University and I was named to be the Seminary
Directress. That means being in charge of our recruits, our novices. I did that for six years, and while I
did it, I commuted to Perryville, Missouri where I taught languages to the Vincentian seminarians. That
was a delightful experience because I was the first woman to accept that position.
It was a groundbreaker.
Yeah, and they tested me at first, trying to throw little paper airplanes until I told them, “OK, boys, this is
the end.” [laughter]
This is not fourth grade!

But it was fun.
After Directress, I went to San Antonio, Texas where I worked in a Mexican-American parish as a DRE
[Director of Religious Education]. I loved it there because the people were so intent on doing the right
thing for their families. Unfortunately, I did not stay there long. I was named to be a Provincial
Councillor and after that, I became the Visitatrix of the Province.
Did you pick up more Spanish when you were in San Antonio?
When I was in San Antonio, I used Spanish more. I finally got my degrees around 1972 and then later in
1974 when I got one in French and one in Spanish.
But never in Italian?
Never in Italian. But, I was Seminary Directress and also Provincial Councillor, they sent me to the varied
congregational meetings that we had in Rome and also in Paris and in Toronto. I had to do Italian the
first time because they didn’t have an Italian translator. So I did do it. A lot of times I listened to the
French and then translated it into Italian. They only asked me to do that one time. Generally, I
translated from French and Spanish into English. That was just a very meaningful experience in my life.
And a lot of work, I bet.
And a lot of work.
Now when you were Councillor, those were the days when they were specialized. I recall health,
I was Formation Councillor. I had been Seminary Directress, so I continued to work with the Sisters who
were preparing for vows and also preparing programs for continuing formation for all of the Sisters. So I
worked with teams, all kinds of committees, went to many intercongregational meetings in St. Louis and
elsewhere to work with others in formation programs.
Then you became the Vis.
Then I became Visitatrix.
How was that?
How was that? I enjoyed going to all the missions and seeing what the Sisters were doing and how
many services they were giving to the poor, no matter where they were or what they were doing. The
Sisters always evinced a great passion for their service, and that kept them going and kept the province
going. I felt like we were very healthy because the Sisters were responding to our newer call to be who
we are.
So that was a great gift.
That was a great gift. I learned a lot from the Sisters. I remember with one of the Seminary Sisters, she
very frankly told me that they were not fifth graders and so I was to talk to them like adults. [laughter]
Good point!

I learned much from the people I lived with and also the ones I visited interactively. It was an awesome
time as Visitatrix because it was a time when we were beginning to discern should we keep this large
Provincial House that serves 200 people and we’re not getting that many recruits. Can we continue the
upkeep and the expense? So we had to go into a two year discernment with the whole Province.
Fortunately, the folks from UMSL, the University of Missouri in St. Louis, wanted to expand their
campus, so they were really eager to buy the Provincial House. We were so fortunate.
Very lucky.
It’s a very healthy operation now – still education – and for the lower-income folks getting degrees.
That was just such a great blessing, and I’m grateful for that.
One more item while you were Visitatrix and you talked about your formation. One of the things that I
remember is the LIM [Loyola Institute for Ministry] Program for the young Sisters. I think that was a big
piece of what you installed as well. Do you want to talk about that?
We worked with Loyola in New Orleans. They had a program where they taught trainers, and trainers
worked with the attendees in the local areas. We had our young Sisters there but we also invited folks
in who were more experienced to dialogue with them because it wasn’t just a head program, it was a
heart and service program. It was an opportunity for them to hear the experiences of other people.
And I think you were part of that [points to Sister Helen].
I was and that’s why I was in touch with it. But I think it was an excellent program because one of the
things was many of the younger Sisters didn’t have a lot of theology in their training so it helped out.
Yes, definitely.
OK, so you weren’t Vis forever. What happened next?
Then I went to the Seton Family of Hospitals in Austin, Texas. I worked in the Education Department for
a long time. I learned how to do my-- I could fax things myself, I could copy things myself. I didn’t have
a secretary, so I learned all these wonderful, practical skills. Then they put me as the Vice President for
Mission Integration, and I worked in leadership formation, almost like a spiritual direction individually
with the executive staff.
Oh, the executives mostly.
That was a good opportunity. Then I was asked to come to St. Louis and be Sister Servant of one of the
groups here at the Sarah Community, the Assisted Living Groups. Well, that’s what I thought, and then
they gave me all the groups!
That was a trick! [laughter]
I did it for four years, but just walking from one end of the building to another was enough of a
challenge for me to say, “That’s really all I can do!” But I love the Sisters, and when I think back on my
ministries – working with the children, they were spontaneous and fun. You never knew what they were
going to do.
Especially with eighth grade boys.

Yes. With the Mexican Americans, I always admired that they would do anything for their families. They
worked very hard. In the health care, the executives wanted to be people of integrity because they
wanted to serve the mission and the poor like the Daughters. They were very sincere about that. In the
international level, there were so many diverse people who had all kinds of ideas and ways that we
should be serving the poor, and I learned from them. I was always appreciative of all the people that I
worked with. So, when I think back, I always said if I had stayed as a good Italian-American girl, I would
have married and had ten kids, and that would have been OK. But I feel that in the community, I have
been given much in the way of education, in the way of opportunity, in the way of grace. I’m a person
right now, thank God, who is very grateful. So when people say, “How are you doing?” I say, “I can’t
complain about anything.”
That’s a great gift. I’m just going to say, I think you missed one thing; when you were in Austin, you also
worked with the Ladies of Charity, one of the very special groups.
Yes, one of the Mission Integration person at Providence in Waco asked me to work with the Ladies of
Charity in Harper Heights. Oh my! What a diverse and loving group. I did that, and then I worked with
other-- the Vincent de Paul Society in Austin and also another group of Ladies of Charity. I loved every
minute of that, too.
They were a great group.
Is there anything else you want to add for history’s sake? Do you think you’ve covered it?
I think I’ve covered it. I want to continue to learn from the people I live with. I think because I was in
leadership for a long time, the tendency was working with people. But now I’m not in leadership so I
want to be more with people and learn from them. I do that by praying to the Holy Spirit all the time.
One of the things I think here is, now that you’re at Sarah, we’re at Sarah, and you mentioned diversity a
number of times. The whole idea that we are here at the Sarah community, not just with Daughters, but
with other communities, and lay people. Even men are here, so what is your response to that experience
that we are having now?
That’s a great gift.
I think so, too.
It’s a great gift. Again, I learned from the experiences of all the ninety-year-olds that are here, whether
they are lay or religious and what they experienced, and how they lived, and what they lived through.
And then our staff. It’s such a delight to be in the dining room in the evening and have our food served.
But to be served by young people who are just beginning, and who, in a sense, look to us for support
and we give it. I mean our ministry of prayer is so filled with opportunity that can’t begin to pin it down.
So, God is good.
God is good. I agree. Thank you, Nanette. This was excellent, very inspiring as well to hear. Thank you.


Dublin Core


Gentile, Sr. Nanette, D.C. Oral History


Gentile, Sr. Nanette, D.C.,Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, Language and education--United States


Sister Nanette Gentile discusses growing up in an Italian-American family in St. Louis, studying different languages, and her life as a Daughter of Charity. She served as Visitatrix from 1989 to 1998, closed the Marillac College campus, and became the first woman to teach at the Vincentian Seminary in Perryville, MO.


Gentile, Sr. Nannette, D.C., Brewer, Sr. Helen, D.C.


Daughters of Charity Archives, Province of St. Louise, Emmitsburg, MD




Keefer, Scott (Transcriber)


Permission for any type of publication of archival materials, including text, photographs, video, or audio must be secured from the Daughters of Charity Communications Director before publication. Contact archives staff for appropriate forms and contact information


Audio/mp3, Application/pdf




Oral History


Gentile, Sister Nanette Oral History



Oral History Item Type Metadata


Brewer, Sister Helen, D.C.


Gentile, Sister Nanette, D.C.


St. Louis, MO




Gentile, Sr. Nannette, D.C., Brewer, Sr. Helen, D.C. , “Gentile, Sr. Nanette, D.C. Oral History,” Sisters of Charity Federation Archives, accessed July 14, 2024,


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