Sister Priscilla Torres, OP | Madison, WI
Born and raised in Big Spring, Texas, I am also Mexican American and a third-generation American. My parents are devout members of their Catholic parish. My mother is a woman of faith, serves as a sacristan, and is a member of the Guadalupanas. My father serves as the Grand Knight in the Knights of Columbus.
Growing up, I went to public school and was never exposed to Sisters or nuns, though I went to Sunday school until I was a high school senior. One Sunday, when I was a child, I had to dress up as one of my favorite saints. I came as Mother Teresa, who was a Missionary of Charity Sister.
I never thought I wanted to live as a Sister. Throughout high school and college, I dated and had boyfriends. In 1992, I obtained my associate degree in art. Two years later, I graduated from Texas State University with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, and not too long after that, the State of Texas hired me. I participated in a program that helped kids stay in school and parents apply for employment.
Life was good. I was not in a hurry to get married, and I was even looking at buying a home. It was when I was volunteering for a high school youth ministry that I felt my Catholic faith take on a deeper spirituality. I really felt God’s call. I remember coming home from an all-weekend retreat with the youth group, and I realized I needed to express my faith in more ways than simply going to church and volunteering with the high school youth ministry. That feeling stayed with me for a while.
The first time I heard the word ‘nun,’ I thought, ‘I don’t want to be a nun. I don’t want to pray in a church all day. I don’t want to leave my family.’ All these things just went through my mind quickly, and I ignored it and moved on, but still that feeling remained.
While volunteering with the high school youth ministry, I got to know a few Sisters and realized how warm and welcoming they were. I visited congregation after congregation and asked the Sisters, ‘How do you know when it’s the right congregation to join?’ Their response was always the same: ‘You’ll just know.’
One Sunday, after youth ministry, I picked up my Catholic diocese newspaper. In the corner of the page, it said, ‘Dominicans: come and see.’ I was like, ‘Well, okay, I don’t know who Dominic is, or who the Dominicans are, but I’ll go.’ So, I attended the come-and-see weekend with the Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa, and it was a wonderful time. Some of the Sisters had strong personalities and some were gentle. When they came together to pray, it was just this one beautiful group of faithful women.
I waited about one year after this first encounter with the Dominican Sisters to discern. At the age of 35, I finally entered religious life. I’m now in my early 50s, and looking back, I don’t know why it took me so long to make this decision because this is exactly where I am supposed to be. In 2018, I took on the role of formation director and relocated to Wisconsin where I accompany women through their time of discernment as they enter religious life with the congregation.
Living religious life is not for the faint hearted. As a Sister, you won’t have children. You’re not going to be married. You must ask yourself, ‘Can I live with that?’ My period of discernment was long. Discerning involves deep prayer and really listening to what God is calling you to do and to see if religious life is a right fit. I had to work through letting go of the life that I had. I was afraid I’d lose my family, but I later realized I actually gained a second family — my family of Sisters. I also found it was a joyful life.
In our congregation, there are 290 Sisters with the median age at 84 years old. We are preachers and teachers of the Gospel and we live out this Dominican Charism through a variety of different ministries, such as working with homelessness, social justice, and immigration. Every Sister has a gift that they can put forth in ministry or towards serving others. Some of our Sisters are lawyers, counselors and doctors. As a Sister, my ministry has revolved around helping women and children and one of the ministries involved working in a homeless shelter for pregnant women.
As Dominican Sisters, we take the vow of poverty, vow of obedience, and vow of chastity. We’re called to live simply. The vow of obedience requires us to listen to God and hear what God is calling us to. It also asks of us to listen and have trust in our Sisters. The vow of chastity is to live a celibate life. We are called to be inclusive —a freedom to love all and not just one specific person. When I am called to a new ministry, I leave many people behind. Just when I think, ‘Oh, I can’t love more,’ I go somewhere else new, and I love even more.
When I told my parents of my decision to enter religious life, my mother said that as long as I was happy, she was okay with my choice. My father was more reserved until he learned more about what I got into. My grandmother was not happy with my decision because she was afraid I would be living the old monastic life where I stay in a convent and she would never see me again.
When I was going through my journey to become a Sister, I called my grandmother often and sent her postcards of places where I was ministering. She grew to support my decision and would say, ‘Tell the Sisters hello for me.’ She didn’t know them, but she knew that I was in a place where I would be loved, and I would be able to love others.
Religious life is not for the faint-hearted. There is sacrifice but there is also joy in your life. You make a commitment to your congregation and God. As Sisters, our priorities and values are different. We need to earn money to make a living to sustain ourselves and our needs. But, more importantly, our ministry is to serve others. The furniture I have in my home doesn’t match, but I have what I need. We are called to live simply.
I became the formation director to the congregation in 2018. In addition to my role as the formation director, I also work with the Relationships For Mission Team. We work with 200+ women and men, who are in relationship with us and share in our Dominican Mission.
The Dominican order is over 800 years old. The Sinsinawa congregation is celebrating its 175th anniversary year. I’m so excited to be part of this long-standing legacy. Our Dominican Sisters are spread throughout the world — Trinidad and Tobago, in the Caribbean, Bolivia, and all across the United States. As Dominican Sisters, we’re itinerant preachers— we are always on the move wherever the ministry takes us. In a period of six years, I lived in Texas, California, Minnesota, Missouri, Florida, and Wisconsin.
Wisconsin has become my second home. I live in Madison and have an office in Madison and at the Sinsinawa Motherhouse. The Motherhouse sits on 450 acres and is surrounded by agriculture and wildlife. Currently, we have about 100 Sisters who live there and are retired.
Religious life continues to evolve and change. As Sisters, we’re called to see the needs and signs of the times. We minister to the needs of the time. And at this point in time, there are fewer numbers of women entering religious life in the United States. The call from God continues, the ministry, the need is still there. Women are answering the call. We had two Sisters this summer make perpetual vows and one Sister made her first vows. About 60 years ago, most women entered at the age of 18 and had to be a religious Sister to do ministry and serve in the church. Women today have more opportunities to serve the church and do ministry outside of religious life.
There’s a phrase that goes, ‘God does not call the qualified. God qualifies the called.’ Be open to wherever and whatever God is calling you to. It could be religious life or not. It could be in a new career, new opportunity, or maybe there’s a new need that requires fulfilling.
A blessing of being a Sister is having a community of Sisters. It’s a gift, and it’s a challenge because we all are human and have different personalities. The Sisters are my greatest support, we love each other and we care for each other. It is a blessing to live in community, to love and serve God and God’s people.
Sister Priscilla Torres’s story was produced by Jesse Yang. You can learn more about the Dominican Sister of Sinsinawa here.