Would-Be Nun Seeks Funds To Erase College Debt

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Alicia Torres, a Loyola graduate, cannot start her career until she clears her $94,000 of debt, only to take a vow of poverty. Torres wants to be a nun, but first she must be debt-free. Not to be hindered in her commitment to Christ, she's trying to raise the money, even participating in a half-marathon this week to raise the funds. Torres tells her story.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Now, a story of debt on a micro scale. In Chicago, a 24-year-old woman ran a half marathon this weekend, hoping to get enough pledges to pay off $94,000 in student loans. She called it the Nun Run. Alicia Torres wants to become a nun. And to take the vow of poverty, she first has to eliminate her debt.

Alicia Torres, why is that the case? Why do you have to eliminate your debt to take that vow?

Ms. ALICIA TORRES: Well, you know, living the vow of poverty, you live in an environment where you don't receive any money and the community lives off the generation of others. And so, in religious life, we won't have the opportunity to go out and make a salary to continue paying off things like debt. And so, in order to enter religious life, I have to eliminate all of my debt before I can take that step.

BLOCK: And that's where the half marathon comes in. How did it go?

Ms. TORRES: It was really wonderful. It was a grueling experience, I have to be honest. But thanks be to God, I ran it in two hours and 40 minutes and three seconds, which for my first distance race ever, that was pretty decent.

BLOCK: Yeah.

Ms. TORRES: Yeah.

BLOCK: That's great. And how about pledges, how'd you do?

Ms. TORRES: Oh, my goodness gracious. Right now - and I don't have a count from the last seven days - but I've raised roughly $17,000 to date.

BLOCK: Well, there would be other ways for you to pay off your debt, right, through your family or through a job?

Ms. TORRES: Yes. I actually work full-time for the Archdiocese of Chicago, so I continue to work. And I have had support from my family and friends. But because of the significant amount of debt that I'm in, I figured if I don't start trying to find creative ways to find support, it could take me, you know, nearly 10 years to pay this off on my own.

BLOCK: And you want to become a nun before that.

Ms. TORRES: Oh, my gosh, yes.

BLOCK: Yeah, I know this isn't a simple answer. But what is calling you to become a nun?

Ms. TORRES: Sure. You know, when I was in college, my junior year, my friends and I, we grew closer to God through a special devotion: praying through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, which is something in Catholicism that we do. We ask Our Lady to pray for us to God, kind of similar to the way that you ask your grandma to pray for you.

And so, at that time, I just felt really called to religious life. And last year, particularly, my friend and I had the opportunity to go see Pope Benedict in New York City. And that really, really pushed me forward, feeling on my heart that this is really the reason why I'm here on this earth: to serve God and his people in religious life.

BLOCK: Well, if you do become a nun in the Andalisia(ph), will you keep on running?

Ms. TORRES: You know, I actually plan to keep on running. It's been a beautiful experience. And, you know, the neighborhood that I live in right now and that I'll be serving in is on the west side of Chicago where there's abject poverty, a lot of gangs and violence, and the young people really need things to really feel proud of. So I think having a running club for the neighborhood would be wonderful.

BLOCK: I can see you out there in a wimple.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. TORRES: It would be great. You know, and also, I've actually had visions of having one of the athletic companies make a technical habit for me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: A technical habit.

Ms. TORRES: Like the shirts and shorts that wick away the sweat very well.

BLOCK: Yeah.

Ms. TORRES: And so, I figure maybe they can make a habit like that.

BLOCK: Well, Alicia, best of luck to you.

Ms. TORRES: Oh, thank you so much. God bless you.

BLOCK: That's Alicia Torres, an aspiring nun in Chicago who ran a half marathon on Sunday to try to eliminate her debt from college loans.

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