Latina Benedictine Nun Made a Personal Option for the Poor

Article excerpt

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Theresa Torres is such a shy, unassuming person that the dream she had last summer seems like it was dreamed by somebody else. In it, Pope John Paul II presents her with a copy of the new Universal Catechism and solicits her opinion. Her answer: "I'm not sure this is going to meet the needs of the people because you have to be where the people are."

Torres, a 37-year-old Benedictine nun, admits the dream expresses her own vision for her life. She always had a desire to work with the poor, she told NCR.

Twenty years ago, she thought this meant being a missionary. Today, it means working with young people at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, located in an old Hispanic settlement in Kansas City. Mostly Mexican-Americans whose forebears built the railroads live here, but new arrivals from Mexico and Central America appear every day.

There are Hispanics in need, poor people right here, Torres said.

Like the people she serves, Torres embodies the rich, patchwork Mexican-American experience in the United States. She can point to ancestors who fled the Mexican revolution and worked the railroads in Iowa, and others who lived in what is now Texas in the early 1800s before the U.S. invasion of Mexico.

Raised in a small German community in rural Iowa by her mother and grandmother, Torres recalls still painful memories of poverty and discrimination: welfare, food stamps, and classes aimed at ridding her of her accent.

But Torres' story also includes a deeply rooted spirituality that fostered a desire to serve those even less fortunate than her own family.

"The rich faith of my grandmother and love of my extended family nurtured my vocation," said Torres, who lives here with a group of sisters who share prayers and meals.

In the mid-1970s, she enrolled at the Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan. …