ASHLAND — Like all Catholics, Alma Rosa Alvarez is dejected by clergy sex abuse and the cover-ups that followed. But this longtime English professor has remained staunchly Catholic for three main reasons: family tradition, the church’s openness to questions and, most of all, the Eucharist.

Alvarez, 51, grew up in southern California, the daughter of Mexican immigrants. Her spiritual home was Our Lady of the Rosary Parish in Paramount. Some of the main stories told in her family covered the exploits of the stepfather of her maternal grandfather. The man was a Cristero, part of a movement that took up arms in the 1920s against state-imposed atheism in Mexico.

“We take our faith seriously and guard the ability to practice our faith,” Alvarez said. “I could never want to prohibit anyone from practicing their faith.”

Her grandmother prayed the rosary on car trips and each night sent blessings out from her home in the directions where her children lived.

At the same time they were fiercely Catholic, young Alma Rosa’s grandparents and parents believed in freedom of the mind and cultivated critical thinking. For them, asking questions was an act to benefit the common good.

A keen student from a family of avid readers, she earned a bachelor’s degree at California State Dominguez Hills and then a master’s and doctorate at the University of California, Santa Barbara. It was during graduate school that Alvarez embraced the faith as an adult. She was a regular at Old Mission Santa Barbara, founded in the 1780s, and volunteered to take Communion to hospital patients.

Her dissertation touched on liberation theology, which framed the struggle against oppressive regimes in biblical terms. It was about faith making a difference in the here and now.

Alvarez, a member of Our Lady of the Mountain Parish, has taught English at Southern Oregon University for 23 years. She served a term on the Archdiocese of Portland Pastoral Council and has been a member of the archdiocese’s justice and peace commission. She served on her parish council and helped get a Spanish Mass started in Ashland. She is faculty advisor for the Southern Oregon University Newman Center.

Alvarez calls herself a feminist Catholic and defies those who would persecute homosexual or transgender people. She understands the disappointment and anger over sexual abuse and concealment in the church, even if it happened decades ago. But she is not going anywhere.

“If I didn’t believe what happens at the altar and I didn’t believe in the Real Presence of the Lord, and I didn’t have the family history I have — people gave up their lives to be able to practice their faith — I don’t know if I’d stay,” she said.

But she is a regular at eucharistic adoration at Our Lady of the Mountain. “I believe God is there,” she said.

Her wish for her beloved Catholic Church is that it get ever more deeply in touch with its core values, including welcoming the stranger and defending all life, including the unborn, the sick, death row inmates and low-income families.

Alvarez is married to John Almaguer, an immigration attorney who worked for Catholic Charities for years. The pair have a 20-year-old son.