What led you to move to Milwaukee in 2013?
I moved from Puerto Rico to Milwaukee because I was looking for schooling and future opportunities for my youngest son, Juan Carlos, who had been diagnosed with Asperger’s. Now, this is considered on the spectrum of autism. It is a high-functioning form of autism. He was going into high school, so I was looking for more opportunities for him in adulthood and to become independent. In Puerto Rico, we have no programs like that.
You served as pastoral associate at St. John Paul II Parish — your home parish — in the past.
I was there for six years, from 2016 to 2022. That ministry was outreach, but I also had a part in formation and faith propagation. I did RCIA, home-bound visiting and I was the liaison for parish groups and other groups. I also was a facilitator for families.
What drew you to your present position as director of outreach at the Cathedral?
I was not looking for a new job. I was finishing my master’s degree and I always wanted work with the homeless community — that was my dream job. Susan McNeil (part of the staff of the archdiocese) sent me information about the position. I decided to apply to find out more, and they offered me the position. My marching orders were mainly to get the Open Door Cafe reopened after COVID. I accepted the challenge and joined the staff Sept. 1, 2022. By Nov. 1, I had the great opportunity to open the doors to the main dining room and greet Open Door clients. It is like having your own restaurant for a very special clientele. It is very meaningful for me — it’s amazing.
How many people does the Open Door Café serve?
We serve Sunday through Friday, from 11:15 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. Today (a Friday this summer), we had 99 people. This past Tuesday, we had 137. We usually serve about 100 people a day. They are mostly homeless.
About five years ago, you were the translator for two groups that traveled on mission trips to the archdiocese’s sister parish of La Sagrada Familia in the Dominican Republic. How has that experience changed your faith and your life?
It was like now seeing life with new eyeglasses. It changed my vision of life 100 percent, in terms of how much we have to give and the many ways we can be servers, even from a distance. We don’t have to be in the same country to impact lives in a positive way.
What inspired you to continue to live with a missionary spirit?
I have many role models in and outside of the Church. One person who inspires me to do more is Pope Francis. He was appointed pope the same year I came here, and I keep a picture in my house of him with the words, “Let’s do this together.” I meditate a lot about it. When I left everything behind in Puerto Rico, I took this picture with me. He inspires me a lot. Jesus, of course, is my first role model. He was a rebel in a good way. I can identify with him, and Pope Francis as well. You must have doing good as your goal — do good, be good and do not judge. You can make a difference in the lives of others. I have to say that both are very special to me. Pope Francis is unafraid of making changes. I can identify with that — I am not afraid of making changes.
How would you describe your faith or relationship with God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit?
It is my theology that I will never walk out of my house without dedicating myself to them, to God. God is the center of my life. That’s the truth. When I made the change to have God in the center of my life, everything changed to be better. I apply that to every role in my life. My mom died unexpectedly last month, but I ask God, “Let me see with your eyes. Give me the strength to see what you see, if not right away.” I’m so blessed. I answer his call. That is important. I know he is going to equip me with what I need. He makes a huge, huge difference in my life.
What is the best advice you generally give?
If someone is searching for something that is missing, my best recommendation is to go and do community service. Be Jesus for others. Be the best representative of Jesus. Be an instrument of peace. We don’t have to wait until we’re rich to give something. There are a lot of needs. That’s the beauty of what I am doing now — there are many people touched by the ministry, they come and serve. I see how transformative it is for the person to be there and serve.
What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?
I was born and raised on a farm, so I am a farm girl. I was born and raised on a coffee farm in the mountains in Puerto Rico.
What do you dream of doing?
My dream is to go to the Vatican and work in the community lunchroom they have there for the homeless and see how it operates. I am planning to go to Italy in September 2024.