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Gary native proudly serves his country and his Church in Navy then as priest

Torres crosses too

Visiting the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery and Memorial site in Nettuno, Italy, near Anzio, Father Frank D. Torres, associate pastor at St. Helen in Hebron and a U.S. Navy veteran from the 1970's, looks out over the graves of 7,800 fallen comrades from World War II and offers his prayers. (Provided photo)

 

by MARLENE A. ZLOZA

Northwest Indiana Catholic

 

      HEBRON – It may be a stretch to say the U.S. military draft lottery led Father Frank D. Torres to the priesthood, but the associate pastor at St. Helen believes his four years in the U.S. Navy helped lead him to his true vocation.

      When the draft lottery was established in late 1969 as the Vietnam Conflict was heating up, the recent high school graduate, who was working in a steel mill and taking college courses parttime, found himself with a low lottery number and without a deferment, so he enlisted in the Navy.

      “They tried to match you with something you were good at, but I had no technical skills. I knew how to read, write and spell exceptionally well, I guess, so they put me in communications,” he recalled of his 1971 assignment. “When you are out at sea in the middle of nowhere, there are other nations out with you and some are friendly and some are not; a United States ship always has to be in communications with the mainland 24 hours a day, and if there are other ships in the area you have to be in communication with them also.”

      Father Torres was deployed with the USS Patterson DE 1061, a Destroyer Escort with 275 crew members. Part of an anti-submarine warfare service fleet, the ship patrolled the Atlantic coast of the U.S., finding and chasing Russian submarines. “The ship had all the capabilities to track and destroy, but it was a cat-and-dog game, letting them know that we knew where they were,” he explained. During the last six months of his four-year service, the USS Patterson headed to the Mediterranean Sea where it visited NATO ports.

      “I’d have to say Naples, Italy was my favorite stop because I was determined to skip everything I usually did in port, ask for a two-day pass and catch a train to Rome by myself, which I did,” Father Torres said. He toured the Vatican, the Forum and was sure to toss a coin into the Trevi Fountain, to test the legend that it will bring you back to Rome in the future. “It worked, since I’ve been back to Rome five times over the years,” he said.

      Father Torres admitted that during his Navy years, “I got a lot of things out of my system, and I was ready to settle down.

      “Spending so much time out at sea, I began to think about the reality of becoming a priest, and by the time my tour of duty was nearing completion, I spoke with then-Father Carl Mengeling (who later became a bishop in Michigan), the pastor at Nativity of Our Savior in Portage, where my parents had moved while I was in the service. He was a great supporter and role model for me. I’d had good role models in the pastors we’d had while I was growing up in Gary, too.

      “Father Mengeling made arrangements for me to attend seminary at St. Meinrad, and he really supported me there, because I wasn’t a very good student,” Father Torres said modestly. “A lot of my professors were classmates of his, and I’ll never know if he put a good word in for me.”

      Ordained to the priesthood on June 4, 1994 at Holy Angels Cathedral in Gary, he served as associate pastor at St. Mary in East Chicago (1994-97), administrator at Holy Rosary in Gary, and associate pastor at St. Mary again and St. Joseph in LaPorte before returning to Lake County as associate pastor at St. Casimir in Hammond in 2009, with additional duties in Whiting and East Chicago.

      Since arriving at St. Helen several years ago, Father Torres has cultivated some loyal parishioners just by being “so humble and doing so much good with his outreach ministries,” said Karen Yankauskas, the parish’s director of religious education. “I didn’t even know he was involved in a prison ministry for three years until he called once to ask me to unlock the church for Saturday afternoon Mass because he was running late returning from a prison visit. He is so humble about what he does, but it is so beautiful to see.”

      Pat Hren, a former DRE and St. Helen parishioner for 45 years, described Father Torres as “very caring and responsive to the needs of the parish and sympathetic to those who suffer a loss. He has a joy about his priesthood, showing that this is what he’s happy to be doing, and he has a sense of humor. I can tease him, and he teases me right back.”

      Hren said Father Torres also “loves celebrations,” often using a birthday as an excuse to serve coffee and donuts after daily or holiday Masses.

      It’s no surprise Father Torres, who celebrates a Memorial Day Mass each year at Calumet Park Cemetery in Merrillville, has planned a special Veterans Day Mass for 9 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 10, at St. Helen, followed by a free pancake breakfast at the parish for all veterans, active military and their families. “He’s a veteran himself, but he’s thinking of others,” Yankauskas noted.

 

Torres Navy

U.S. Navy seaman Frank Torres, 22,  is shown aboard the U.S.S. Patterson Destroyer Escort – 1061, in the early 1970's. After serving in the miltary for four years, he entered seminary and was ordained a Diocese of Gary priest on June 4, 1994. (Provided photo)

 

Torres Mass

Ordained to the priesthood in 1994, Father Frank D. Torres (center), associate pastor at St. Helen in Hebron, celebrates his 25-year anniversary Mass earlier this year with concelebrants Father Lourdu Pasala (left), pastor at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in New Chicago, and Father Thomas Mischler, pastor of St. Helen and of Holy Spirit in Winfield. (Provided photo)

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