By Ben Dickison, Sports Editor
Things have come full circle for newly-ordained Jesuit and new Parochial Vicar of Bellarmine Chapel Father Damian Torres-Botello, S.J., who assumed this role on Aug. 12.
A Kansas City native, Torres-Botello has earned a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre from Saint Mary’s College in Leavenworth, Kans., and embarked on a 30-year odyssey in theatre — serving as a writer, director, and actor and sometimes all three — in the same production.
Over the course of his theatre journey, Torres-Botello has used his pulpit to amplify the voices of the marginalized. In 2004, he founded Full Circle Theatre Company with close friend Jeremy Lillig.
“Theatre helped me want to hear marginalized voices that are not heard. I wasn’t always a practicing Catholic, and I struggled with some things the Church might teach, but I think theater helped me understand my faith better,” Torres-Botello reminisced.
Torres-Botello also honed techniques in theatre that allows him to provide an immersive preaching experience rivaled by few men in his vocation.
“I do believe that there is some responsibility for the priest to bring the text alive and make it mean something. The prayers, Scripture and things that happen in the Catholic Church are beautiful, but if they are presented in an antiseptic manner, then it is not going to do any good,” he said.
Torres-Botello spent his most recent stage of Jesuit formation earning his Master’s degree in Divinity (MDiv).
During his time studying philosophy at Loyola University of Chicago, Torres-Botello and other Jesuits in formation collaborated with Chicago ROAR, a regional organization focused on antiracism organizing and training, to promote inclusivity in Jesuit institutions.
This line of work led Torres-Botello and other Jesuits to form the Jesuit Anti Racism Sodality (JARS), which focuses on bridging the gap between the tradition of the church and those it marginalizes.
“This work is important to me because my relationship with my skin color and the Catholic Church hasn’t always been good,” he said.
“Some Black parishes are in a hard transition time because they are now partnered with parishes that are predominantly White and may not fully understand the culture of Black Catholic people,” he continued.
In addition to expanding the umbrella of the Catholic Church to be more accepting of non-white cultures and expressions of spirituality, he has also spent years striving to be a catalyst for a more equitable experience for people who identify as LGBTQ+.
“I used to write for the Jesuit Post, and in 2015 I publicly came out (in an article),” Torres-Botello recounts. “I believe that God made me who I am and I do not understand why everyone cannot be welcomed to the altar.”
He has worked with organizations focused on the intersection of Catholicism and the LGBTQ+ community — such as Fortunate Families, Dignity and News Ways Ministry in the past — but has typically focused on grassroots movements in communities he took residence in during formation.
His identity as a gay man, Jesuit and member of the Latinx community drives him to inform the parishioners of Bellarmine Chapel that he will cultivate an altar that is a “table of plenty” and a “safe and brave space” for any person who may approach it.
He also hopes to be a beacon of welcome to all people during his time at the end of Musketeer Drive, stating, “the altar is the one place where we are equal because we are all receiving the same Body and Blood.”