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South Texas Living

A woman of faith, part II

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Julia Castro
Apple Pie and Salsa
September 18, 2013 | 5,622 views | Post a comment

This is the second of a two-part story of Dora Rodriguez, a remarkable woman.

In 1984, Dora faced the first of many challenges. Doctors removed a benign tumor from the hearing nerve in her left ear. It cost her her hearing in that ear. Now she had to stand in a different spot in the choir area so she could hear the rest of the choir. But she kept on playing.

In 1985, Dora attended a Fire Rally, a day retreat in San Antonio. She said she saw people being baptized in the Spirit. She said she didn’t feel different that day, but afterwards she was consumed by a desire to read Scriptures. She spent every spare moment reading the Bible. She asked a friend what it meant and she was told that she had been baptized with the Holy Spirit. Jesus tells us to go out and evangelize. Dora thought, “What better way than to start with my own family?” Of course, they had all been brought up in the Catholic faith. The following year she started a weekly prayer meeting that included not only her immediate family, but also her siblings and parents. Not long afterwards it extended to others in the parish. I was invited to it by “Tona.” The meetings were held every Monday night in different homes. “Tona” didn’t give up on me. She kept inviting me week after week. Finally in June of 1988, I went to my first prayer meeting, and my life was changed forever (but that’s another story).

In 1997, a tragedy of the worst kind struck Dora and the family. One night they were notified that one of their daughters had died in a traffic accident -- their beautiful Suzanna. There is no greater loss than that of a child, regardless of age. Family and friends rallied around them. Their faith carried them through. To help them cope with the loss of Suzanna and also Josie’s husband, Billy, Dora started a weekly family prayer meeting again. Martha Figuera took over the Monday night prayer meeting. And Dora kept on playing in church.

In 1998, she decided to give up playing at Masses, so she announced her retirement. Father Victor Carrillo presented her with a plaque of appreciation for all her years of service to the parish. Her retirement didn’t last long. In 2001, Father Stefan Wiera was assigned as pastor of our parish. He heard Dora play at some service and convinced her to come back to play in church. She agreed, even though by then she had had a large part of her stomach removed because of cancer. She continued to play until 2003 when she decided to retire again. This time she received a plaque from Father Stefan.

In 2003, Dora and her sisters did a concert to benefit Sacred Heart School. They were billed as “The Saldaña Sisters.” They wowed the audience with their renditions of old Spanish love songs that they had learned from their father. In 2006 they did a Christmas concert, again to benefit Sacred Heart School. This time they were billed as “The Saldaña Sisters and Friends” because other musicians joined them. Again they were a big hit.

Through the years, Dora had also endured the passing of her parents and two siblings. Then in March of 2009 she lost her beloved husband. They were blessed to have been able to celebrate their golden wedding anniversary in 2004. Then in 2010, the dreaded cancer returned. This time the doctors removed the rest of her stomach. But even that didn’t slow Dora down.

From 1991 until this past June, with the exception of maybe one year, she has been involved with the Women’s ACTS Retreats. She has been doing what she loves, playing the guitar. She helped Martha for six years at a San Antonio parish. In 1997, Martha started the ACTS movement here in our parish, and Dora has been helping since then, under different directors.

These days, Dora, at 77, continues to play at her prayer groups. She has one on Tuesday for her family and one on Thursday for others, mostly people who have attended the ACTS retreats and want to stay connected.

Dora feels very blessed with her loving family. Not only her grandchildren but adults in her prayer groups call her “Mama Dora.” The name was given to her by her daughter-in-law, Marlynda, and the name stuck.

Dora is always willing and ready to help any of her children as the need arises. She is kind, gentle, loving, soft-spoken, modest, and very humble. She couldn’t understand why I wanted to write about her. I want others to know about this remarkable “woman of faith.” She should be a good example to those of us who sometimes go through our “poor little ol’ me” syndrome.

Dora occasionally plays at wakes and funerals of relatives and close friends. Also, she and Josie grace us with their beautiful voices at the bilingual Mass on Sundays. Dora is also active in the Legion of Mary ministry. She considers herself a “walking miracle” and gives God all the glory, honor, and praise.

And that Monday night prayer group that Dora started so many years ago -- well, a few of us keep it going, with the help of Deacon Tito and Molly Chavarria.

Julia Castro, a retired Head Start teacher and mother of 10, lives in Floresville with her husband, Henry. Her email is

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