WEST HARTFORD – Mario St. Francis Herrera is a motivational speaker and lay Catholic evangelist. He is a professional model often seen in magazines; he is also a soap opera actor and was once listed among Cosmopolitan magazine’s 50 most eligible bachelors.
But he is also a deeply religious man who has a passion to educate, inspire and motivate. He speaks to young single adults about living their faith and looking for fulfillment outside of the typical career and party scenes.
Mr. St. Francis spoke for five hours on Dec. 13 at a pair of programs held in Connor Chapel of Our Lady at the University of St. Joseph. He addressed a group of approximately 80 teenagers for two hours in the morning and made a three-hour presentation to a gathering of young adults that afternoon.
He makes his living now by traveling around the country talking about how faith, religion and Roman Catholicism in particular have become the cornerstones of his life. His appearance was arranged by Deacon Ramon Rosado, Hispanic youth coordinator for the archdiocesan Office for Hispanic Evangelization.
Deacon Rosado spoke of the importance of having young people hear the message of faith from such a powerful speaker and role model.
“After confirmation, [sometimes] we sort of start drifting away from church, from faith,” Deacon Rosado told the teenagers. “Hold on to that faith that has been given to us. It’s a beautiful gift.”
Mr. St. Francis started his modeling career while he was still in his teens, working for companies such as Tommy Hilfiger and Levi’s. His image appeared in such well-known magazines as GQ.
Born in America, he went to his parents’ native land to compete for the title of Mr. Colombia and earn a shot at the Mr. World title. But by the age of 24 he found all that pursuit of fame and fortune left him feeling spiritually empty, so he decided to become an inspirational speaker.
“I had a very strong faith as a young person” and attended Catholic school, he told the teenagers. He was fascinated with the story of God.
But as he entered adolescence, he experienced all of the distractions that can pull young people away from faith: cars, sports, parties, friends, etc. Soccer became more important to him than church.
Mr. St. Francis saw celebrities on television and in magazines. He craved to become one of them and worked toward that goal. Lo and behold, he achieved his dreams.
“I got a taste of what it was like, so I wanted more,” he said.
But one of the problems was that “in order to be famous you have to go where the work is” and that means a lot of time away from home and a lot of time spent alone. He said that is why so many famous people who are living the life everyone else envies develop depression and resort to drug and alcohol abuse, or even suicide.
He discovered that what really matters is not fame and fortune. It’s God, family, friends and a nice home-cooked meal that matter. He thought, “If God is so important, why am I spending so much of my time pursuing everything else?”
Mr. St. Francis severely broke his hand while working out during his time in Colombia competing for Mr. World. Assistance was long in arriving and he prayed for help, promising God that he would return to family and friends and church if only God would save the day.
The damage to his hand was so bad that he was covered with blood and passed out more than once. The cleaning woman and security guard who came to his hotel room fainted, too. The pageant people were angry with him because his injury upset their work schedule.
He kept his promise to God, but it was not an immediate transition. The next step in the process was dating a woman who was Christian, but not Catholic. Her family had a negative impression of Catholicism. One benefit he discovered through her, though, was an emphasis on reading the Bible.
While studying to change careers and become a physical therapist, he attended Mass. The homily helped open his mind and heart to the deeper meaning of God and that life is a gift. His interest in Catholicism returned.
Mr. St. Francis talked at length about the importance of the soul as a priceless gift from God. He assured audience members that each of them is wanted because God chose to create them.
“God is fully aware of you,” he said. “God wants to be in each one of your lives.”
Other sponsors of his local appearance were the University of St. Joseph Office of Campus Ministry and the Institute for Latino Community Practice.