Fr. Santiago Torres, at left being ordained by Calgary Bishop William McGrattan, credits his mother with being his role model in life Photo from Diocese of Calgary

Mother’s love inspires Calgary priest

  • July 13, 2023

A mother’s love, and her refusal to abort her child more than three decades ago, has culminated in Calgary ordaining its newest priest.

Calgary's grandiose St. Mary’s Cathedral drew a full house on June 16 for Fr. Santiago Torres’ ordination. He lay prostrate on the floor before the Lord, completing his vows before Calgary Bishop William McGrattan.   

“What jumps out at me the most was how full the church was and the beauty of the liturgy,” said Torres. “You could just sense that the Church is alive. It was amazing.”

Torres’ journey began over 34 years ago in Bogota, Colombia. When he was in his mother’s womb, his biological father, who left the family, stated he did not want anything to with the pregnancy or rearing a child. He pushed for abortion.

God, and his mother, Maria Cristina Latorre, had other ideas.

“She is the biggest role model in my life,” said Torres. “Just her sense of sacrifice and sacrificial love from the very beginning when she chose to have me, even if that meant having to tell her parents that she was expecting and that my father left her. Of course, that is a very difficult position for any woman.”

He grew up alongside his sisters Ana Maria and Maria Juliana, twins who are two years Torres’ junior. He received the sacraments of Baptism and First Eucharist, and his grandparents helped Latorre impart spiritual wisdom to her children, but there was no major inkling during his youth that the priesthood would be his calling.

Latorre married Juan Gonzalo Arango when Torres was 14. When he was 16, the family immigrated to Calgary for a life with better prospects. Not long after his arrival on Canadian soil, Torres encountered and began dating a fellow Colombian expat, a girl actively practising her Catholic faith.

The journey of Torres to becoming a devout Catholic would start to take shape during this relationship. His girlfriend for over three years invited him to attend Mass, and soon he felt inspired to renew his nightly prayers to Jesus.

In 2010, at the age of 20, the future priest experienced a powerful moment of conversion during an Impact evangelistic mission hosted by Catholic Christian Outreach. This retreat was conceptualized as a gathering that would help inspire apathetic Catholic young adults to turn to God more passionately. During adoration, Torres said he felt the call to place developing a relationship with Jesus as the No.1 priority in his life.

“Thanks be to God that they came because they were the ones that took that initial faith that the relationship had begun to grow and really helped me to claim it for my own,” said Torres. “I really began to grow in my faith in a personal way rather than for somebody else.”

Torres further enriched his devotion through the University of Calgary Catholic Community (now the St. Francis Xavier Chaplaincy). In 2014, he graduated from the U of C with a mechanical engineering degree.

For the next year he worked in his chosen profession, but felt a serious call to apply for seminary studies.

But he was also excited about a budding romance.

“The struggle about entering the seminary was leaving behind this relationship,” said Torres. “Finally, after a real long time struggling with this decision — probably half a year — the thing that pushed me off the fence was her. She said to me at one point when I said that I was thinking about giving the seminary a chance is that she wanted God’s will for her life, and if this relationship wasn’t it then as much as it was painful to let it go, she preferred to discover what God’s plan was for her life.

“I just really have that phrase really engraved on my mind because I was doing the contrary thing. I was trying to force my way and hold on to the relationship instead of going to the seminary.”

Torres spent his first two years as a seminarian at the Mount Angel Seminary in Oregon. Afterwards, he transferred to St. Joseph’s Seminary in Edmonton. In both places, Torres said he felt at peace with answering God’s call because of how at home he felt and how many friends he made.

One of the special friendships was forged with Serge Buissé. They studied, played sports and had each other’s confidence. The current pastor of St. Joachim in La Broquerie, Man., told Sara Francis, a writer for the Calgary diocese, why Torres is a special guy.

“He was always a gift in so far as his desire to grow,” said Buissé. “He is very human. I thank God He sent me someone like him; his capacity to be real, to be authentic and we supported each other in almost every aspect of life.” 

Torres has also been described as joyful, humble and confident by the people in his life, but he said whatever he accomplishes as a priest will be through the Lord, not the force of his personal traits.

“During the first Mass (following my ordination) the priest spoke about my human qualities. He then made emphasis that it is not because of the human qualities that one is called, but for the task of making God present through those qualities and your shortcomings.”

His first assignments are to serve as associate pastor of All Saints Parish in Lethbridge and associate chaplain of the St. Francis Xavier Chaplaincy in Calgary beginning Aug. 15. Torres said he looks forward to encouraging and inspiring young and old Catholics alike to enter a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. He recognizes the challenges of ministering in a mainstream secular culture, but he has hope in what can be accomplished.

“The truth of God, the Gospel and God’s love for us does not change with the times. There are many different challenges in our society today. It is very counter-cultural even to be a Christian and be a priest. But at the same time, I think there are lot of people out there that have their opinions about Christianity and have an idea of what it is without really knowing it. If we believe the Gospel is true, then by presenting it with joy, faith and confidence that God wants to reach those people and give meaning and joy to their lives, then it can provide answers to people.”

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