Living the Faith: Maria Quiroga and Alvin Shiggs

ROXBURY -- As parishioners of St. Mary of the Angels Parish, Alvin Shiggs and his wife, Maria Quiroga know what it’s like to roll up their sleeves and “put their faith into action,” as Shiggs described it.

“St. Mary’s is a place where people from the neighborhood can turn to in their time of need whether they are Catholic or not,” he explained.

Located in the heart of Egleston Square in Roxbury, St. Mary of the Angels is both “a spiritual sanctuary and a social justice place,” Quiroga said.

“To me, faith is about caring for other people -- and this is sometimes tough -- but it is not only about you, but about bringing Christ to others. Being a Catholic is not just about going to Mass on Sunday, but about living that faith,” she added.

In order to bring the Church to as many people in the wider community as possible, both Shiggs, 67, and Quiroga, 59, are involved in the “Neighborhood Cluster Group” within the parish -- a group of volunteers who organize outreach programs such as the parish food pantry, first time homebuyer programs and Summer Neighborhood Walks, walks in which parishioners walk around the neighborhoods encircling St. Mary of the Angels, talking with neighbors and lending a sense of community to an area in which violence is so prevalent.

In addition to his work on the Neighborhood Cluster Group, Shiggs is also the co-chair of the parish pastoral council and is currently working on a parish strategic plan in order to “continue to be viable and sustainable in the future.”

The couple became parishioners at St. Mary of the Angels 28 years ago, just as their first child was born. Quiroga, a native of Bolivia who was raised in New Jersey, was brought up Catholic; Shiggs, a native of Georgia who was raised in South Carolina, was not. He had been brought up in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) tradition.

“I really got to know the Catholic Church right here at St. Mary’s,” he said. “I did not know the teachings of the Church, but I saw a lot of truth in the Church.”

After serving on the parish pastoral council for one year, Shiggs decided to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church, something he feels God called him to.

“I think the universality of the Church, having grown up in the AME, which was a small group, is something that has always struck me,” he said. “Celebrating with people of many different walks of life, all in one Church, is something that makes me always reflect on my faith.”

This is visible in their parish community. As Quiroga explained, their parish is made up of a wide variety of cultures -- Hispanic, African-American, Caribbean, African, Laotian, Caucasian -- and all of these are very much intertwined.

“We’re one Church. We’re different, but we’re one Church,” Shiggs added.

“Always the way we celebrate [feast days] celebrates the diversity of the parish,” said Quiroga. “The life of the parish is really done all together.”

Quiroga added, “This should be the snapshot of the entire Church.”

The couple praised the many pastors that have been at St. Mary’s through the years, noting that their leadership was often what fostered that sense of community that crossed ethnic barriers. In particular they lauded their current pastor, Father David Gill, SJ, noting with sadness that he will be leaving at the end of June.

“Father Gill has always supported the parish’s role in developing the laity. He really wants to see the involvement of the laity, of young people, of women, of all of us in the life of the parish,” Shiggs said. “He will be greatly missed.”