To the Editor:

Two fascinating events happened only a few hours apart on Sunday, June 11. Each offered an impressive example of the accomplishments of a person who has found a fulfilling passion quite different from their professional calling. One is a retired bishop now moonlighting as a blacksmith, and the other is a Wilton police officer who is also an accomplished operatic soprano.

How did each acquire an unusual alter-ego avocation? For the bishop, blacksmithing reflected his desire to do something concrete to address gun violence as he entered into retirement from his bishopric in the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut. For the police officer, her calling to sing was a longstanding one that she nurtured with careful professional development of her natural vocal talents.

As Wilton Police Lieutenant Anna Tornello pursued her career in police work beginning with police forces in Italy, she also advanced her vocal talents in opera’s mother country. For Bishop Jim Curry, his passion for putting his faith into action combines with his height and strength to give him credibility as a “blacksmith with a cause.” In poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s words, “The smith a mighty man is he, with large and sinewy hands.” However, Bishop Curry would be more likely to credit his faith and his passion for social justice, not his brawn, for the direction in which he has moved post-retirement. 

His work takes the weapons coming from police and prosecutors’ gun seizures and voluntary gun surrenders and turns them into farm implements and garden tools as well as items of jewelry. Thus for example, the barrel of a shotgun, AK-47, or Glock becomes, after considerable reworking at the forge, a very effective garden tool for cultivating, with a flat hoe-like surface on one side of its working end and two pointed digging protrusions on the other side, all affixed to a stout wooden handle.

Bishop Curry does his work through Swords to Plowshares Northeast (S2P), a nonprofit of which he is the co-founder. S2P focuses on reducing gun violence in our communities by converting weapons of death into tools of life and then using those tools for the betterment of the community.

Bishop Curry demonstrated this gun-conversion process in a presentation held in the parking lot of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church that was described well in a June 12 GOOD Morning Wilton article. He brought with him a small (but impressively hot) propane-powered furnace and a forge mounted on a huge wooden block where the heated metal parts could be pounded into the shapes required for these tools.

Following his demonstration of how the process works, a series of children and adults wielded hammers at the forge as Bishop Curry supplied them with orange-glowing gun “body parts” fresh from the furnace for reshaping into newly constructive purposes. Those adults included two Wilton police officers. The numerous children present were also really drawn to the work, as Longfellow himself observed in an earlier time: Children “love to see the flaming forge… and catch the burning sparks that fly like chaff from a threshing floor…,” although Bishop Curry was very careful to assure that no burning sparks flew from his forge.

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For Bishop Curry, this blacksmithing takes his life’s work in a new and exciting direction but with the same overarching objective of reflecting God’s love for all of us in a very tangible way, giving present-day meaning to the biblical prophet Isaiah’s pronouncement, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.”  

The police role in the S2P process underscores another link between Lt. Tornello and Bishop Curry, these two remarkable people who each always looks for ways to make the world a better place and then forcefully acts on what they have envisioned. 

Lt. Anna Tornello sings at Wilton Congregational Church. Credit: contributed / Wilton Congregational Church

For Lt. Tornello, her operatic skills have been put to very good use in multiple fundraisers for local nonprofits, including for Wi-Act’s annual meal-packaging work to feed children wherever in the world the need is greatest. The fundraiser on this Sunday afternoon, however — held in the sanctuary of Wilton Congregational Church — was for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. As a cancer survivor herself, Lt. Tornello knows firsthand the importance of this research work and strives to assist others, especially children, to fight cancer effectively as she has.

Lt. Anna Tornello and Trevor Brown, the son of Wilton Congregational Church Executive Administrator Pamela Brown, sing together at Wilton Congregational Church on Sunday, June 11. (credit: Pamela Brown)

Lt. Tornello’s performance was extraordinary. Operatic singing is not just a matter of having a beautiful voice. It requires years of training in such things as mouth positioning for the highest notes, diaphragmatic vocal support for every note, and acting skills to portray the roles the singer is expected to perform as well as to sing. Lt. Tornello did it all, singing and acting beautifully! Joined by three other operatic virtuosi and a highly skilled accompanist, they performed works by Mozart, Puccini, Rossini, Verdi, and even from Beethoven’s one opera, the well-known Fidelio; and closed with a rousing collection of Broadway show tunes.

That Sunday was an especially joyous day here in Wilton to celebrate the drawing of good from bad so creatively and effectively.

Steve Hudspeth