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Was Mary Volino saved?

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This story is part of a series from Texas Public Radio called “Running Red-Lights.” The podcast and additional reporting focuses on the history of sex work in San Antonio and the women who ran the industry, but who weren’t allowed to make history.

According to local lore, one of the madams of San Antonio's red-light district stumbled upon a street preacher one day and decided to dedicate her life and her work to God.

While San Antonio’s Red-Light District was booming in the 1800s, one madam decided to convert her business into a brothel.

The story goes that Mary Volino stumbled upon a street preacher one day and decided to attend a revival at Travis Park Church. According to the church's teaching, that experience gave her the idea to change the direction of her life.

For years, Volino's conversion story was taught at the church as an example of God's grace and forgiveness. When Evan Jones, a former member of Travis Park Church, was in seminary school in 2012, he realized the story was missing an important detail: Volino's first name.

She had been referred to as M. Volino or M.L. Volino, but no one knew what the "M" stood for. He decided to find out and followed her trace all the way to Provence, Oklahoma, a once-time boomtown near Ardmore, where he found several headstones engraved with her surname.

Volino's legacy continues in San Antonio, despite not knowing her first name. Her brothel-turned-rescue home still exists today. It's called Providence Place, and its CEO and President Judith Bell, said the organization has returned to its roots.

Please reach out to us with questions or comments at redlights@tpr.org.

TPR was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.

Kathleen Creedon can be reached at kathleen@tpr.org or on Twitter at @Kath_Creedon
Bri Kirkham can be reached at bri@tpr.org or on Twitter at @BriKirk