‘Chopped’ Champion Finds Her Vocation in Convent and Kitchen
By Pat Szpekowski, Observer Correspondent
May 17, 2018
S he was raised by a Navy family and while living in Massachusetts her sights after high school were set to attend the Naval Academy and become an officer. But God had other life plans for Franciscan Sister Alicia Torres. 
Instead she received an ROTC Scholarship to Loyola University Chicago and earned a bachelor of arts degree in theology, a master’s of divinity at Mundelein University and a master of arts in teaching at Dominican University.
“I had this huge dream to be in the Navy,” Sister Alicia said, “but then I asked God what He wanted from me. It was not long after that I heard the call to become a sister and had this deep desire to join the battlefield of spirituality with Jesus.”
She joined the new religious community of the Franciscans of the Eucharist of Chicago and turned her focus to the precision and structure of evangelization, teaching, eucharistic adoration and joyfully serving the poor at the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels in the West Humboldt Park area on Chicago’s west side. The mission is located at the site where 92 children and three sisters died and hundreds were injured in the Our Lady of Angels School fire on Dec. 1, 1958.
Sister Alicia shared her stories and deep faith with a group of 100 women on May 10 at a “Women at the Well” morning program at St. Patrick Parish in St. Charles. 
Many were familiar with Sister Alicia in an entirely different capacity involving her culinary skills.
Sister Alicia’s love of cooking resulted in an unlikely twist of fate when she became a celebrity chef on the Food Network Show “Chopped” in 2015. How did it happen? 
“They were calling convents across the country to produce a show entirely with sisters,” she said, “but they couldn’t find enough to get it done. They kept my name on file and when they were ready for a special Thanksgiving show, they called, and I joined three other people who also served in soup kitchens.”
Not only did Sister Alicia compete, but she won the $10,000 grand prize for the Mission. She learned to cook from family members, especially an uncle. 
“I totally lacked confidence when I joined the show,” she said, “but I did have my prayer warriors and felt covered in prayer. From the moment I started, I knew I would win.” 
She’s been asked many times why she went on the show and her simple answer was “to represent the poor and Jesus.”
She wants to spread the Word
But her cooking background was not the focus of her presentation to the women of St. Patrick, which was“Take, Bless, and Give: Opening our Hearts to the Father’s Love and Mercy.”
“Baptism is not a passive sacrament,” she said. “Jesus brings lost sheep to the flock. They are everywhere — in our families, our friends, at schools and at restaurants. People are waiting for an invitation to come back to the Lord. Just ask. And then there is the sacrament of the Eucharist. Jesus is the final sacrifice, a living sacrifice for us.”
At age 33, Sister Alicia’s zeal and authenticity for evangelization is on fire. 
“Her faith is infectious,” said Jonne Harms of St. Patrick Parish. “You can feel her love of the Lord, and how she shares it is refreshing. I’m going to find out more about her mission and see how I can help.”
Sister Alicia said, “As Catholics, we get stuck on the cross. Let’s not miss God’s glory.” She spoke of making a 30-day silent retreat of prayer and meditation, reflecting on the words of St. Ignatius Loyola. 
“The worldly go where the King goes to share in pain and victory, but with Jesus Christ,” she said. “I am here because I want to glorify the Father, save the world from evil and share in suffering and glory.”
At the mission, the sisters have full days assisting the poor, providing after-school and senior citizen programming, and much more. Among her responsibilities, Sister Alicia cooks at the mission, which serves more than 150 families a week. She gets creative and helps with special events, such as supporting the archdiocese through dinners for archdiocesan priests or consecrated religious men and women.
“A typical day for me is organized chaos,” she said. “I’ve been a sister for nine years and believe in habituation, making good habits. Structure is very important.” 
A typical day begins at 6:30 a.m. in the chapel for prayers and psalms; Mass at 7 a.m. before work; lunch at noon; Holy Hour at 5 p.m. and dinner at 6 p.m. Evenings are free for studies, talks, and prayer.
To continue their purpose to assist the materially poor and to share the treasure of the Catholic faith, she said, the mission seeks volunteers and accepts monetary and in-kind donations. 
Info: missionola.com