Posted February 10, 2020

With scholarship fund, beloved Temple Rome staffer will always be there

The retirement of Teri Morelli, a longtime staff member at Temple Rome, prompted the creation of a fund to help students in her honor.

Photography By: 
Courtesy Temple University Rome
Teri Morelli, an administrator at Temple Rome, retired in 2019 after 34 years at Villa Caproni, the Italian mansion facing the Tiber River that houses Temple Rome’s faculty and programs.

As enchanting and charming as Villa Caproni is, what makes Temple Rome and the student study abroad experience there truly special isn’t just the art, the architecture, the cityscape and the food. What makes Temple Rome truly special is people like Teri Morelli, known to all—even in her official Temple email handle—as Mrs. Morelli.

For 34 years until her retirement last year, Morelli was one of the first people to greet everyone arriving at the Temple Rome campus. And for 34 years, Morelli managed academic and faculty support there, coordinating student schedules, assisting faculty, organizing special events and keeping the place humming in ways big and small.

Her colleagues say she has been a mentor, counselor, advocate, ambassador, and often a source of great comfort to students who face unexpected circumstances, and also comfort at times for students’ parents back in the United States.  

So, Morelli’s Temple Rome coworkers are honoring her as she retires from her post in the only way that seems appropriate: They started the Mrs. Morelli Student Emergency Aid Fund, which will help students in need just as Morelli did.

Morelli’s kindness and way of being quick with a warm smile or a helping hand has left a lasting impact not only on her colleagues, but also on students who have studied at Temple Rome. 

Recently, a man stopped in the Villa to say hello, remembering the immeasurable help Morelli was when he was a student in the late 1980s and, on a weekend in Sicily, he broke his leg and wound up in the hospital for days.  

“Back then … you couldn’t call a house in New York from a hospital in Sicily,” Morelli said. “So he called me, and we’d talk, then I’d call his mom to tell her what was happening, and what the doctor said. 

“I talked to him every day while he was in the hospital,” she continued. “And he said to me, ‘You were my only contact with the outside world.’” He said he didn’t know what his mom would have done without Morelli there to talk to, either.

I think I speak for all of us when I say that it has been an honor and a privilege to know her and to work alongside her here at Temple Rome."
-- Fay R. Trachtenberg, acting dean, Temple Rome

Working at Temple Rome, having a work life that’s been, in her words, “the best of all worlds,” was a simple twist of fate for Morelli, who still speaks with a Chicago accent and laughs easily with everyone she meets.  

“I moved here in 1972. Can you believe it after all these years I still have a Chicago accent?  My sons were born here, and they have Chicago accents too,” she laughed.  

Morelli came to Rome for the summer when she was 20, because her mother had agreed to come help their parish priest with his work in the city. Her mother agreed on the condition that she could bring

Morelli and Morelli’s 7-year-old brother along. The family arrived in June, and by the time August rolled around, Morelli had fallen in love with the director of the hotel they were staying in, and she chose to stay. She’s been in Rome ever since.  

It was in 1985 when she was a young mother that a friend called and said Temple Rome needed a secretary and suggested she apply.

“I came in and said, 'Just so you know, I’m a little rusty,'” she remembers laughing. But she filled the role perfectly, helping the thousands of students who have come through the program—and supporting the faculty and staff in countless ways, too.

Alyssa Marotta, a Fordham University graduate, wrote to Morelli last year to tell her how much she meant to her, and remembering how impossibly homesick she was her first week in Rome in the spring of 2012.

“I still remember withdrawing from all my classes in your office, showing up for the trip to [the Umbrian city of] Todi Sunday, and then coming back on Monday morning to re-enroll in everything,” Marotta wrote. “Both you and Dean Strommen were welcoming faces and the warm, open hearts that I needed the most … I will forever be grateful, you truly helped shape the person I am today.” 

Always generous with her time, Morelli also became known for sharing from her wallet, or “cassa,” when a student, young and far from home, was in a pinch or needed a boost. Whether it was a missing suitcase or a lack of cash to buy a meal with friends, Morelli knew just when a student needed a hand.

“The faculty has been so wonderful,” Morelli said in January from her living room in Rome, enjoying retirement and more time with her three grandchildren. “They said now it will always be like Mrs. Morelli is still here.”

“I think I speak for all of us when I say that it has been an honor and a privilege to know her and to work alongside her here at Temple Rome,” said Fay R. Trachtenberg, acting dean of Temple Rome, which began 54 years ago as a Tyler School of Art program.  

Today, thousands of students later, Temple Rome offers classes across the course catalog and partners with dozens of American colleges and universities, including Harvard and Stanford.  Morelli said she hopes thousands more students get to experience Temple Rome.

“It’s an amazing experience for them. For so many of them it’s their first time away from home,” she said. “When they get back, they miss it. It’s like it got under their skin. Temple Rome has changed so many people’s lives.”

Support the Mrs. Morelli Student Emergency Fund. 
—Gale Morrison