By Fr. Rafael García, SJ
Mary Fernandez is a familiar face at Sacred Heart Parish in El Paso. She is always eager to help with parish projects and acts as an example of Sacred Heart’s commitment to service in the El Paso communities.
Born in El Paso and raised in a small apartment across the street from Sacred Heart Church, Mary has been a part of Sacred Heart for her whole life. As a girl, Mary received all her Sacraments of Initiation at Sacred Heart and attended Sacred Heart School. Her lifelong engagement with the parish solidified itself through her family, who attended 5:00 a.m. Mass daily at Sacred Heart.
“Sacred Heart is my second home,” Mary says. “Growing up, Fr. [Robert] Gafford, [SJ], was like a father to me. For years, Sacred Heart has been the place where I have sought serenity for dealing with many problems. I could come in and speak with Jesus, the Sacred Heart.”
Growing up in poverty in the Segundo Barrio motivated Mary to help the community, leading her to work for Project Bravo, a community service agency founded to help the impoverished communities. Project Bravo looked to the community to identify problems and offer solutions. This led to area improvements such as streetlights, as well as street-cleaning jobs for area residents. In 1977, with permission from the bishop, Project Bravo’s first office was at Sacred Heart, in the former school building. Mary became the community organizer for the barrio and, eventually, additional areas as well.
In the parish, Mary served as president of the St. Vincent de Paul Society and formed a children’s choir and a girls group, “las Inecitas.” Named after St. Inez (St. Agnes), the group is led by Mary’s piano accompaniment and inspired by the unwavering spirituality of St. Inez, expressed through music.
In the late 1980s, a group of police officers and their wives came to the parish with the desire to offer a Thanksgiving meal to the community. The pastor charged Mary with this project, which she willingly took up with her usual helpful spirit. This willingness to help with a sudden project marked the beginning of a tradition that continued until the COVID pandemic in 2020.
More recently, Mary has been responsible for coordinating liturgical ministries in the parish, now with a co-coordinator. She also has participated in numerous lay formation courses at the Tepeyac Institute of the Diocese of El Paso. Her experiences at the Institute have given Mary new ideas for how to lend herself to God’s call of service, both within Sacred Heart’s ministries and out in the community.