BRIDGEPORT—When he was 15, Fr. Rolando Torres met a young woman who was in the same Catholic youth movement in Puerto Rico. Years later, in desperation, she emailed the now pastor of St. Mary Church in Bridgeport and asked for help. She and her husband and two sons were homeless.
They lost everything in Hurricane Maria, one of the most devastating storms ever to hit Puerto Rico. Could Father help them?
He wasted no time, and shortly afterward arranged for the family”s flight from San Juan to America, where an apartment was waiting for them in Bridgeport with two months paid rent. It was only one of many efforts on the part of the priest and the predominantly Puerto Rican parish to help people from their native island, whose lives have been destroyed by the storm that hit on September 20.
He said his goal as a priest is to serve and not to be served. His spiritual mentor, one of the holiest priests he ever met, told him that should be his purpose. They are Christ’s own words.
Since he was named pastor in 2015, Fr. Torres said his goals have been twofold; to advance the spiritual lives of his parishioners and to implement social programs for the church and community, most recently through charitable activities and relief efforts for victims of the hurricane.
Fr. Torres had wanted to return to Puerto Rico because he has family members and friends there, but his plans were thwarted when a flight he booked was cancelled. Since then, the parish has sent regular shipments of food and provisions there, with the shipping being paid for by an anonymous Greenwich donor. The parish also raised $4,000 through a diocesan collection that was given to Catholic Charities for its relief effort.
In addition, a special donation is being made to Our Lady of the Angels parish in Utuado, whose pastor, Fr. Miguel Mercado, was the rector of the minor seminary that Fr. Torres attended.
“He was the priest who told me that we live to serve,” he recalled. “He once said, ŒIf you want to be a good priest, you start by cleaning.” I have been blessed to know very holy and humble priests.”
Working with Rosa Correa, coordinator of the Puerto Rico Relief Center in Bridgeport, Fr. Torres has assisted other families who came here after the hurricane.
Often lacking a support system in America, they have been welcomed by St. Mary’s and invited to attend the parish’s Thanksgiving dinner and the observance of the feast of Our Lady of Providence, patroness of Puerto Rico, for whom Father and the parish have a special devotion. Fr. Torres speaks often about Providence in his own life and the life of the church.
“Rosa Correa sent people our way,” he said. “It was like the Providence of God that we already had everything in place to help them.”
As part of their efforts, parishioners serve meals every second Friday at Thomas Merton Center, and prepare breakfast in the church hall after Mass. St. Mary’s has close to 1000 families who attend three Masses in Spanish and one in English.
Fr. Torres recently had an adoration chapel built, where daily Mass is said, along with Eucharistic adoration, Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
In addition, more than 100 people gather in the church hall for weekly classes in Bible study and Church history, which he teaches. He also has an Internet radio program twice a week titled “Alpha and Omega” at www.lavozdemariaradio.com.
For Fr. Torres, serving at St. Mary’s is somewhat of a homecoming. His family attended Mass in the old church, which was demolished in the early 1980s. It was there that Fr. Torres was baptized in 1978 by Monsignor Peter Cullen, who years later vested him for his ordination.
The youngest of nine children, he and his family left the East Side and returned to Puerto Rico when he was barely a year old. As a teenager, he felt called to the priesthood and entered a minor seminary. He later received his bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico and studied theology in San Juan.
In 2002, he returned to Bridgeport. By then, however, he had left the seminary and was working odd jobs for a cleaning service and dentist’s office. Even though he didn’t know what the future had in store, God did. One day after Mass at St. James in Stratford, Fr. Thomas Lynch asked to pray over him and said, “God has a plan for you. Don’t let the devil hold up that plan. May the Lord make you come back to him.”
That pray was quickly answered. A few days later, he met with Monsignor Chris Walsh, then Director of Priestly Vocations. “We talked for two hours,” Fr. Torres recalled, “and he convinced me to come back. I told him my English was bad, and he said, “God will take care of you.”
He resumed his studies at St. Joseph’s Seminary and College in Dunwoodie, NY, and graduated in 2006. He was ordained on May 19, 2007 and assigned to St. Mary’s in Greenwich, where he served for several years, followed by St. Mary’s in Stamford and briefly at St. Joseph’s in Shelton.
On May 19, 2015, he was appointed pastor of St. Mary’s in Bridgeport. It was the anniversary of his ordination. For Our Lady of Providence, there are no coincidences.