It all began when Alicia Torres was attending Loyola University as an undergrad. Theology and bio-ethics were on this “Navy Brat’s” plate. On the side, she began spending time in Eucharistic adoration. That precious time led her to the point of forming “an actual relationship with him.” “Not only did the Eucharist become more real,” but her “intellectual faith” was transformed into a “faith in my heart that yeah, this is Jesus!”
It did not end there. As the Mass and her own life became more real, Alicia began to sense “an invitation to belong totally to the Lord as a religious sister.”
She joined a newly-founded group of women religious, the Franciscans of the Eucharist of Chicago. Alicia is still “baffled” how the Lord led her to this community since she had not been involved with service to the poor. She thought her mission would unfold in the pro-life movement she was active in since high school. However, looking back on her thirteen years in the congregation, Sr Alicia confidently says, “the Lord’s plan is perfect.”
There is, however, a connection between Saint Francis of Assisi and the Eucharist, Sr Alicia explains. “So many people don’t realize how Eucharistic Saint Francis of Assisi was — he wrote a letter to every priest in the entire world after Lateran IV emphasizing putting into practice what the Council called for around respect and reverence of the Eucharist.”
For Sr Alicia and her fellow sisters, their mission to the poor through evangelization and teaching flows from their “relationship with Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.”
“There’s a tremendous relationship between our Lord’s true presence in the Eucharist and his presence to his people, especially those who are suffering and in need.”
Not only did the Lord steer her in a direction she had not seen coming, he led her to a congregation in which she was “one of the first sisters to join.” It was “in its pioneer days,” Sr Alicia says.
But there is more to Sr Alicia than what meets the eye. Her list of hobbies includes some things you might expect of a woman religious — writing, reading and lesson planning. But there are others that express her own personality — stargazing, coffee, falcons and the Middle Ages.
Sr Alicia now lives and serves as a religion teacher in a poor, inner-city neighborhood in Chicago. “The Eucharist is at the heart of the classroom, the heart of the experience of the children,” she explains. She has personally witnessed how inviting very young children into an encounter with the Lord leads to belief in Jesus’s presence in the Eucharist. “I have a child who’s very non-verbal and I asked him to draw a picture of Jesus” two months after their lesson on the Eucharist. “He drew a circle with a cross in the middle. I asked ‘What did you draw?’ He just kept repeating ‘God, God,’ and pointing to the host that he had drawn.”
Sr Alicia’s mission is now going national through an initiative of the United States Bishops. She helped organize a retreat attended by the priests who are National Eucharistic Preachers that took place in April 2022 on Chicago’s westside. These priests are the bishops’ “top preachers” regarding the National Eucharistic Revival. The revival will be launched on 19 June, the Feast of Corpus Christi and will close with a National Eucharistic Congress on the Feast of Corpus Christi 2024.
These religious and diocesan priests are “on the front lines of the Eucharistic Revival,” Sr Alicia says. She began serving on the executive committee of the Revival last summer, among many other “wonderful primarily lay Catholic leaders,” she explains. After being assigned to the specific task of working as a co-coordinator with the priests who would become “National Eucharistic Preachers,” she then began helping individual priests discern their call to this mission and provide them with information.
“It’s been incredible to see the enthusiasm, and the renewal of their own priestly vocation ... since priests have a critical role in bringing the people to the Eucharist and the Eucharist to the people,” she says. It’s also been “edifying” for her as a woman religious to discover her own “role in the Church” by supporting “something so essential.” “I have a beautiful gift to give and it’s been very life-giving for me.”
“I think that the Holy Spirit has great plans, not only in the United States, but for the whole world…. We just have to get out of the way and just be the hands and feet and allow the Lord to touch hearts.”
Sr Alicia describes her own vocation as a woman religious as deeply rooted in the Sacrament of Baptism and “critically connected to the Eucharist.” She cannot imagine living any other way, accompanying people in “very difficult circumstances, and still have hope” when “we hear gunshots every day just like the people who live in our neighborhood. But I’m not afraid because I believe that I was asked to be here by the Lord, and that Jesus is intimately united to me, and he’s a source of my strength.”
By Sr Bernadette M. Reis, fsp