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Former Cavanaugh rector passes away

Megan Doyl | Friday, September 28, 2012

Her residents battled skunk odor and dressed up like shepherds for her.

She struggled with cancer, but she was always put her residents’ struggles before her own.

And now Amy de la Torre, former Cavanaugh Hall rector and adjunct Spanish instructor, will be missed across campus, but especially among the past and current women of her dorm. De la Torre, who served as the Cavanaugh Hall rector from 2005 to 2011, passed away Thursday after a struggle with cancer.

2006 graduate Elizabeth Callahan served as a resident assistant (RA) during de la Torre’s first year as a rector in the dorm, and she returned to work as an assistant rector (AR) with de la Torre from 2007 to 2009 while earning her law degree.

“The smaller things, I remember the most,” she said. “When the RAs do rounds, Amy always walked around and did rounds with them. That’s how she got to know [her residents]. She wasn’t just walking to walk. She would stop and talk. We would talk about TV, we would talk about classes, we would talk about boyfriends, we would talk about careers.

“She gave great advice, and I think the girls really respected that.”

Callahan remembered de la Torre as a good listener with a quick sense of humor.

“She took the job really seriously, but she didn’t take herself seriously,” she said. “Being a rector, there are some things you have to laugh at.”

When a skunk sprayed de la Torre’s chocolate lab Jackson on a late-night walk, Callahan said she remembered the rector laughing and wrangling the 90-pound dog in a shower stall and scrubbing the smell out with some of her residents.

“That shows how much they loved her,” Callahan said with a laugh.  

De la Torre established the Christmas pageant that has since become a dorm tradition during Callahan’s senior year. The hall residents perform the pageant, penned by de la Torre, every year for a group of local elementary students and children living at the South Bend Center for the Homeless.

“Every year, she had to rewrite it because more people wanted to join,” Callahan said. “We had more shepherds and angels, and the shepherds were more chatty. … She was always so excited about it that all the other girls bought into it.”

2011 graduate Holly Hinz also remembered the flurry of activity and excitement around the Christmas pageant.

“She would always have a lot of fun with it, but she would also make sure we did it right because there were all these people coming,” Hinz said.

Hinz became an RA during her senior year not only because she wanted to work on hall stuff, but also because she wanted to work with de la Torre.
De la Torre retired at the end of Hinz’s junior year, but she said the dorm community the former rector established lived on.

“She kind of just seemed like a mother away from home,” Hinz said. “When I came to Notre Dame, I really bought into this idea of your dorm being your home. I know of assumed all dorms were like that, but I think Cavanaugh had an especially strong feeling of that. That’s because of Amy.”

Hinz said de la Torre said the Divine Mercy in the Cavanaugh Hall chapel every Friday afternoon.
The collection of girls in prayer was always an eclectic one, she said, because de la Torre would grab whoever she found in the hallway and bring them along with her to the chapel.

“She always had a really impressive faith,” Hinz said.

Current senior and RA Meredith Kugar said the dorm will pray the Divine Mercy in the Chapel this afternoon and then visit the Grotto together in de la Torre’s memory. After they heard the news of the former rector’s death, a small group lit candles at the Grotto for her Thursday night as well.

Kugar’s class entered Cavanaugh Hall as freshmen during de la Torre’s last year as rector.

“From the very beginning, it was so apparent that everyone in the dorm loved her,” Kugar said. “The three grades above us were speaking so unanimously, saying, ‘We love her.’ That word was used so much to describe her. For a dorm of over 200 girls to pretty much unanimously love
their rector, that’s special.

“I think the love that everyone had for her, she gave that right back to everyone in Cavanaugh.”

During that year, 2011 graduate Celia Johns was also an RA.

When Johns was in trouble during her sophomore year, she said she was nervous to work with her rector, but she said de la Torre supported her as more than a disciplinary figure during that time.

“It wasn’t just like she wanted to enforce those rules,” Johns said. “She asked about what else was going on in my life.

“My interaction with that was so transforming, and when I was an RA, I took so much of that with me, the way she was able to handle problems and help people through problems without losing sight of who they were as a person, recognizing people for more than just the actions they had done.”

When she became an RA, Johns said she worried again about the effect that incident would have on her chances to be hired for the job.

“[Amy] said, ‘I’m hiring for who you are now, not who you used to be,” she said. “And that was really powerful that someone I admired so much was giving me permission to move on with my life.”

Brian Coughlin, associate vice president for student affairs, said a funeral will be held for de la
Torre in Florida, where her father lives. She has three children, two of whom are both Notre Dame graduates.

 “I know that the women in Cavanaugh absolutely adored her,” he said.

2011 graduate Melissa Truitt, another former RA in Cavanaugh, echoed Coughlin’s sentiments.

“She’s pretty much the reason I got involved with my dorm community to the extent that I did,” she said.

Truitt described hearing the news of de la Torre’s death as “just overwhelming sadness.”

“She was such an amazing woman,” she said. “No matter who you were, you knew Amy cared about you.”

Contact Megan Doyle at mdoyle11@nd.edu