SALVATORE "SAM" CASTELLI
Salvatore "Sam" Castelli died on May 8th, 2020 at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit after being struck with Covid-19.
Sam was born on November 11th , 1940 in Pittsburgh, PA the fourth and youngest child of Salvatore and Concetta Ferrero. His parents had emigrated from Southern Italy at the end of World War I. Sam's father started a small landscaping business that would forever give Sam an obsession with well kept lawns.
Sam grew up in Pittsburgh and the neighboring suburbs. He graduated from Pittsburgh Catholic Central High School. As a teenager he felt the desire to dedicate his life to God and the only way he could think of was the priesthood. However he gradually came to sense that he wanted to live "like everyone else" and that he could not do that as a priest. He wanted something but could not tell exactly what it was. He joined the Josephites, a missionary religious order based in the US and dedicated to a ministry among African-Americans. There he was given Seeds of the Desert, a book by René Voillaume, a French priest, disciple of Charles de Foucauld and founder of the Little Brothers of Jesus. Sam was immediately taken by the spirituality of this group that wanted to follow Jesus in his life at Nazareth, seeking the face of God through the multiple occupations of daily life.
In 1965 Sam crossed the ocean on a merchant ship to begin his training in Europe: novitiate in France and Spain, two years in a community in Leeds (U.K) and five years of studies in Southern France. It was not until 1974 - nine years later! - that he eventually came back to the US. He would often complain later: "They stole the sixties away from me!"
Not only did he return to the US, but he came to Detroit, to Southwest Detroit, a neighborhood he loved and where he would live to the end. He recently wrote: "I thank God and my community for giving me the city of Detroit and the people with whom I have lived here".
After doing a few odd jobs (foundry, laundry, dishwashing) Sam found his "calling": being part of a cafeteria kitchen team, first at the Federal Building, then at Blue Cross Blue Shield and finally at the MGM Casino, where he assured the night shift (10:00 pm - 6:00 am). Even though he did not like to be in the spotlight, for many years he accepted to be union representative at these different places.
Since his youth, Sam had felt a special bond with the African American community and wanted to do something about the race inequality and injustice in his country. One of the ways he tried to express this deep connection was by joining Sacred Heart Church, one of the largest Catholic African American communities in the city where he has been a member for 40 years, especially as part of the Education Committee.
As the years went by, Sam also deepened his relations with the Latino community. He studied more Spanish, went to stay at several of his community places in Latin America and went every year (for about 10 years) help accompany an elderly brother who lives alone in Nicaragua. Sam became more and more convinced that the very survival of his religious order depended on a tight collaboration between the two Americas and he worked relentlessly to develop the relations between all the brothers.
Everybody knew Sam's fascination for everything that had to do with sports and his intense competitiveness whether in basketball, softball or tennis. But they might not have been aware in the same way of how much he loved literature (Dostoyevsky, Faulkner, Conrad and many African-American authors), poetry, music, and movies. Since he had retired he would sign up for a couple of classes every winter at one of the local colleges. He covered an amazing variety of subjects: South American literature, early Spanish history, initiation to art, Muslim civilization, history of the blues. He truly was an encyclopedic man but always did it out of a deep love and respect for whatever subject he approached, the same love and respect he manifested towards all those he met.
This portrait would not be complete if there was no mention of Sam's proverbial absentmindedness that led him into many misadventures: travel documents forgotten, buses or trains missed, cars running out of gas, credit card swallowed by an ATM machine on a frontier town in Paraguay... Every time, with the intervention of a few helping hands, things would turn out fine to the frustration of the more organized people who lived around Sam.
Lately Sam had expressed some concern about the challenges of getting older, wondering how well he would cope. In a brutal way the pandemic has taken care of this worry. Sam will remain in our eyes this athlete who has run the race to the end and received his prize.
Sam was preceded in God's Light by his parents, Salvatore and Concetta, by his siblings Aldo (Leda), Helen (Edmund Leshinski) and Florence (Ricardo Carretta) as well as by a niece, Linda Underhill married to Bill.
He is being survived by nieces and nephews : Aleda Castelli, Dennis Castelli (Janet), Martin Castelli (Debra), Gary Castelli (Carol), Lisa Castelli, Edmund Leshinski (Peggy), Kenneth Carretta (Diane), Thomas Carretta and many grand-nieces and grand-nephews as well as grand-grand nieces and grand-grand nephews.
Due to the present restrictions imposed by the pandemic, a funeral service will be held only later in the year at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Detroit, followed by the burial of his ashes at St. Augustine's house, Oxford, Michigan.
On Saturday May 16th, 2020 at 11:00 am a virtual memorial service will be organized on line. For further details, please contact [email protected].
Donations in memory of Sam can be made to:
- Sacred Heart Catholic Church Detroit - https://www.sacredheartdetroit.com/online-giving/
- Clark Park Coalition Detroit - https://clarkparkdetroit.com/donate
Sam was truly one in a million. I can't remember a time in my life without him. In my life he was a great encourager. From a young kid growing up at Sacred Heart Sam was the CHEF for all of the Education Commissions productions. In the last 10 years Sam began really studying Gospel music and the Blues and Jazz. We would have great conservations about James Cleveland and Muddy Waters. We exchanged books, and I just started reading the last book he gave me "Joy Unspeakable": Contemplative Practices of the Black Church. Sam was faithful to his faith. I would often see him at morning Mass and Adoration at Holy Redeemer Parish in SW.
Sam thanks for the love, encouragement and many great conversations. Rest easy and know your quiet spirit and huge impact will never be forgotten at Sacred Heart! Until we meet again!
I knew and loved you my entire life. You and Eric were always there for my gramma and my family. I'm sorry I didn't get to see you in a while but you are never far from my thoughts.
Sam was one character he ran circles around everyone. Always traveling do his work for God. He was a wonderful servant of God Jean and Eric sending you both a hug
Mary Jane Grace
Sam’s obituary is the story of a beautiful, dedicated life. My condolences to his Brothers, Eric & Jean-Marie.
Mary Ellen Howard, RSM
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