Riviello believes her spot at Santa Clara came from act of providence

From Italian short stories and poems to conversations about Italian designers and film directors, professor Tonia Caterina Riviello engages her students in their study of the language and shares the lifestyle and culture of her native country with them.

"When I'm teaching, three parts of me come together -- the spirit, mind and heart. I'm very grateful to the students and the university for being what they are," she said.

Riviello writes poetry that expresses her passion for learning and reflects her surroundings, spirituality and her interactions with students.

As a child in Italy, her parents often read and studied, and their emphasis on learning inspired Riviello at a young age.

"Learning was so important in my family. They never had to tell me to study. It was natural for me," she said.

Much of Riviello's education comes from her religious life. The first two words she learned to say after "Mamma" and "Papá" were "religione," religion and "rispetto," respect. Her mother took her to church every day, she said.

When it comes to her teaching philosophy, Riviello strives to engage her students intellectually, spiritually and emotionally. She tries to create an alternate reality with literature to show students how literary worlds can affect their own lives. "I want whatever we learn to teach us something about our lives, to make our lives better," she said.

Riviello finds that literature has the power to teach morals and life lessons.

"I want to have literature as a discovery of self as well as an enriching self experience, to give us another reality and which should become part of us," she said.

While finishing her dissertation in 1983, Riviello heard that Santa Clara was hiring for an Italian assistant professor to fill in for a professor while he was on sabbatical. After an interview in New York at the Modern Languages Association, she came to the university in the winter of 1984.

Riviello fell in love with Santa Clara immediately, especially the Mission Church. She described her first visit as an "epiphany."

She believes that her move to Santa Clara was an act of providence. Riviello was born on Saint Clare's Day, August 11.

"I was praying as I was studying that when I finished, I would be able to teach at Santa Clara," she said. In 2001, the 150th anniversary of the university, Riviello dedicated her edited collection of essays, "Women in Italian Cinema," which was written by professors at Italian and American universities, to Santa Clara.

Riviello reflected on how her education and religion greatly impacted her vocational endeavors. "All this was essential to prepare me for teaching at Santa Clara," she said.

Riviello has been at Santa Clara since Paul Locatelli, S.J., began his position as university president. "Thank you, Father Locatelli, for 20 years of spiritual, intellectual enlightenment," she said.

While living in Italy, Riviello was involved in Catholic Action, a program for adolescents that educates participants on Catholic ethics, spirituality and citizenship.

Later, when she and her family lived in New York, Riviello studied at Hunter College and received her Bachelor of Arts in Italian literature and English literature.

She earned her master's degree in Italian literature at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and continued there to earn her doctorate in Italian literature with a minor in French literature in 1984.

When Riviello returns to Santa Clara every fall after spending the summer in Italy and New York, she is always excited to begin the new year.

"For me every fall, it's like the first year. This is what's so beautiful about Santa Clara and the students," she said.

When I come back, it's like 'This is what I was waiting for.

From The Santa Clar

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