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Mary Torres: SS Peter and Paul parish administrator

Kevin Milliken, La Prensa Correspondent


A long-time administrative assistant from SS. Peter and Paul Church (Iglesia San Pedro y San Pablo) received an award chiefly for her work in helping the Latino immigrant community, but Mary Torres would rather have done her charity work quietly and without fanfare.


“It felt nice. I love what I do, but I don’t like the recognition. It would be because I love to do it,” said Ms. Torres. “That was the thing. I just didn’t feel like I had to be recognized or need an award. I do it because I love it, not for anything else.”


Ms. Torres was one of five individuals and organizations honored during an awards ceremony at the Premier Banquet Center in South Toledo on Friday, Sept. 26, 2014. She won the Diamante Latino/​Latina Adult Leadership Award.

Mary Torres


Her reward instead is to see a Latino immigrant take the oath of citizenship after she has helped them to complete the naturalization process and pass the U.S. citizenship test. Her bilingual skills are invaluable to undocumented families trying to assimilate in Toledo.


“It’s just wonderful to see their accomplishments. To see their relief, just the enjoyment is priceless to me,” she said. “That’s just rewarding to me, to see them and their families, knowing that they’re secure, won’t have to worry about stuff.”


Many undocumented immigrants and their families live in poverty and fear of deportation, often keeping to themselves as they struggle to learn to navigate their way through a new community. That struggle is often compounded by a language barrier and a lack of financial or social resources to help them cope. Someone like Ms. Torres becomes a godsend—and often a confidante to Latino families at SS Peter and Paul.


“They trust me because they see me. I’m here as the administrative assistant here at the parish. So they know that I’m here and I know a lot of their situations,” she said. “They feel comfortable with me. They know me.”


Ms. Torres has helped more than 100 people obtain citizenship. Only one failed to pass the naturalization process—because that person was less than honest, according to Ms. Torres.


“It does take us a little longer to do this, the process. We want to make sure they’re going to get this. We don’t want to get anybody’s hopes up and then it doesn’t happen,” she explained. “We try to be thorough. The littlest things to other people are the biggest things to us. We try to put down as much information as we can—that way they don’t deny the case.”


Her parents were born and raised in Texas. Her father worked as a migrant farmworker for a while and she spent a summer in a migrant farm camp as a child. Her mother never finished high school, but her dad did graduate.

“I was exposed a lot to the immigrants as a kid. Since I was small, I just knew I wanted to help them,” she said. “My parents showed me how to be respectful to others.”

Ms. Torres, who will turn 44 in December, is the mother of five adult children and has a granddaughter a little over a year old. She grew up in Erie, Michigan, but has called Toledo home for decades.

“She is truly a Diamante at home and in her community,” wrote her daughter Rebeca Aguilar in nominating Ms. Torres for the award. “With everything she does for the church and the community she still has time to tend to her children’s every need. Her children are very proud of her and are happy to share their mom with the community, because family is everything to us, and we are one community and one family.” 

Ms. Torres attended the awards ceremony with her daughter, husband, and son Tony, a Toledo police officer who graduated in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. Rebeca will graduate from the University of Toledo next May with a bachelor’s degree in marketing.

“She’s always been hardworking. She worked as a manager at Hickory Farms and proved that the sky is the limit for us,” said Rebeca by phone. “She always pushed education—even though she didn’t finish, she always made sure we went to college and give back to the community.”

Ms. Torres herself completed her GED and took a few courses at Owens Community College, but admitted she never finished a college degree because she had children and immediately entered the workforce. She stated her kids know the value of a college education.

“They’re very supportive. They always back me up. When we have church functions, they’re always here,” Ms. Torres said. “I have a good support system. They’re very proud of me.”

Despite being a volunteer, Ms. Torres has earned certifications to help undocumented immigrants to file their paperwork, tutor them for the naturalization test, and put together a dossier for consideration by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials. She also helps families with the renewal of green cards, deferred action for childhood arrivals cases (DACA), asylum cases and waivers. Ms. Torres also is a member of En Camino and the Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc. (CLINIC).

She hopes more people will step up and volunteer to help undocumented families in light of the continuing political stalemate on immigration reform.

“I think so—and they need to be a bit more compassionate. A lot of times, I get people who are not trusting lawyers, because they’ve seen where a lot of lawyers take their money, don’t do anything,” she said. “We’re nonprofit, we don’t charge fees. We’re in it for the people and they do relate to that. We’re a church, we’re there and we’re fighting for them.”


In her professional role at SS. Peter and Paul Catholic Church, Ms. Torres also helps to organize the annual parish festival and special event fundraisers.


This past Mother’s Day was perhaps the biggest one in parish history at Central Catholic High School, as Ms. Torres was instrumental in setting up a benefit concert with Ramón Ayala y Sus Bravos del Norte, a Grammy Award-winning musician, composer, and songwriter of norteño and conjunto music, who has been dubbed the “King of the Accordion.” The 68-year old musician, composer, and songwriter was born in Monterrey, Nuevo León, México and has recorded more than 100 albums and has been featured in 13 movies during a career that spans more than 40 years.


But she goes about that work as quietly as she does her volunteer task as an immigration advocate.


“I don’t like any recognition. I just do it because I love what I do. I do it from the kindness of my heart,” she said. “I just love people. I’m here if anyone would ever need assistance and I try to find whatever resources I can for them.”


Copyright © 1989 to 2014 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 10/07/14 22:42:40 -0700.




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