March 4, 1965 — March 30, 2023
Luis Torres Jr. ’87 grew up in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn as the oldest of three children. At Catholic school, Torres loved his teachers, the Franciscans, who taught him math and science and how to read — although he would credit comic books, and the superheroes who populated them, with really turning him into a reader.
Of all the heroes, Torres loved Superman the most, because Superman always tried to see the best in people and never gave up on humanity. Torres spent his life doing the same, even in the face of great suffering.
Torres was a helper. At 14, he began working at summer camps for children with developmental disabilities, which soon turned into year-round work with the Guild for Exceptional Children in Bay Ridge. He would return to volunteer for these organizations for many years to come — in the same way that, while living in New York after college, he would trek down to Princeton every six weeks to patronize the Witherspoon Street barber he’d befriended as an undergrad. Torres was a loyal friend.
He was a fun friend, too, his college pals say — the fun friend, mirthful and daring. “But maybe Imma gonna!” was his catchphrase during those years, meaning: I know I probably shouldn’t, but … why not try this thing, or that thing, or anything? One year, for example, when Princeton’s sports teams unexpectedly found themselves short of a student to fill their Tiger costume, Torres stepped in to play the mascot.
Another semester, when one of his friends fell ill and was convalescing during the most beautiful days of fall, Torres hatched a plan: He would bring autumn to her dorm room. With a few pals, Torres spent a day raking up all the leaves he could find and then blanketed his friend’s doorstep with the haul. Torres was always mounting some caper like that.
After college, back in New York, Torres met and married his wife Barbara and started a family, which grew to include three daughters — Ally, Becca, and Juli. He taught high school, studied law, worked as a corporate lawyer — hated it — and then took a job in the mayor’s office. Closer to home, he worked to revitalize the social life of his new home parish: organizing barbecues, throwing movie nights, and putting on Easter egg hunts. He loved visiting Puerto Rico, where his family had roots.
In 2001, in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, Torres took on the job of escorting visiting dignitaries and officials through the Ground Zero site. He wanted to show them just how much his hometown was hurting, and just how much it needed help.
The next year, in 2002, The Boston Globe ran its “Spotlight” investigation on abuse in the Catholic Church. In response, the church established a new kind of review board. Diocese by diocese, these independent bodies would hear testimonies of abuse from victims and their families, remove priests they found credibly accused, and begin the process of restitution.
Because of his legal background, Torres was asked to join the Brooklyn diocesan review board. He agreed, and began working through hundreds of open cases. He would serve on the board for nearly 20 years.
What the diocese didn’t know, when it first invited him, was that Torres was a survivor of clerical abuse himself.
“I just think, what grace. There are many, many survivors and families who are renewed in their ability to live because of him.”
— Teresa Pitt Green
Co-founder of Spirit Fire
As Torres would put it later, this was a truth that he had tried to outrun by throwing himself into his work, first as a laywer and a city employee, and then as a lobbyist. But Torres refused to run away from the review board — even though its mission brought him closer to his trauma.
Torres stayed because he wanted to fight for the aspects of Catholic life he still found beautiful and good. And because he wanted to believe that the church could, someday — partially — atone for what it had done. But also, Torres stayed because he felt there needed to be a survivor involved in the process, someone who could look out for the people who were testifying.
“Actually, I believe that serving on the review board saved me,” Torres would say later. “It allowed me to push back against this evil. I was able to see the face of Christ in the efforts of others [during times when] the unspeakable darkness of my abuse did not permit me to feel God’s presence in myself.”
In 2013, in his late 40s, Torres began to experience bouts of severe depression and PTSD. Following several years of treatment, he sought out Teresa Pitt Green, a fellow survivor who was working as an educator and counselor. Together, they founded Spirit Fire, a Christian restorative justice initiative, to forge new paths to healing. That work has included setting up peer-to-peer support networks for survivors, leading workshops for bishops on trauma-informed ministry, and mediating discussions between church leaders and families.
Even during difficult periods for his mental health, Torres would summon the strength to offer counsel to survivors any way he could: by meeting them locally, for example, or by talking over the phone. “I just think, what grace,” says Pitt Green. “There are many, many survivors and families who are renewed in their ability to live because of him. And there are many, many bishops who are now better able to help survivors because of Luis alone.”
In 2018, Pitt Green and Torres were invited to address the full general assembly of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. This was during another season of scandal for the church. That day, with the media looking on, Torres turned toward the assembled group of bishops, cardinals, archbishops, and eparchs.
“I stand here before you today and willingly remove the last vestiges of an armor that has protected me for so long so that I may speak to you. I’m not private anymore. Everyone knows. In return, I ask that you hear me,” he said.
“You need to do better. We are not liabilities. We are not your adversaries. We are not scary. We are your children. We are your brothers and your sisters. We are your mothers and your fathers. Your words and actions have caused us further harm and pushed us away.
“You were not called to be CEOs. You were not called to be administrators. You were not called to be princes. Be the priests that you were called to be. Be the spiritual fathers we all need. Please, act now. Be better. Be good. I’ve been told that I am naïve to expect such things. My only response is to say that faith is an inherently naïve thing. We are supposed to approach God as a child. Where else but with our Church and with our God should we have the courage to be so naïve? Don’t fail us.”
As the 2010s drew to a close, Torres’ physical health began to decline. Eventually, he was diagnosed with a rare type of cancer, which doctors linked to his trips to the Ground Zero site nearly 20 years before. He did not see this situation as hopeless, his family says. He was always adapting, learning new ways to get around while coping with progressive paralysis. He kept his faith.
In May 2022, he was not well enough to attend his 35th college reunion. But he worked with Princeton classmates to mount one more caper. At Reunions, Torres’ friends gathered up as many stories and memories as they could. Then, leaving a day early, they drove to Torres’ house and brought Reunions to his door. They blanketed him with love; Torres was very loved. He died on March 30, at the age of 58, surrounded by family and friends.
David Walter ’11 is a journalist based in New York City.