She opened her home and her heart to dozens of foster children.
Maria Leonella Salazar y Trujillo was born February 7, 1902, in Cebolla, New Mexico, to Katarino and Anna Maria Riberio Trujillo. On September 14, 1926, she married Jose Tobias Salazar. They eventually made Salt Lake City their home.
After raising her own family, Salazar devoted her life to caring for numerous foster children brought to her by Catholic Charities of Salt Lake City. When interviewed by the Salt Lake Tribune in 1970, this active and concerned widow had mothered 91 children since the early 1950s and was at that time caring for four foster children ranging from 14 months to 17 years of age. On one occasion she undertook the care of a set of triplets.
Over the years Salazar helped to recruit other foster mothers and accepted into her home children with behavioral problems and those hostile toward adults. “In two or three weeks though,” she told a Tribune reporter, “They usually decide it is more fun to act like a member of the family.”
Salazar’s house was “always full of children, “a daughter-in-law recalled in an article in the Intermountain Catholic. “She would have five or six cribs set up at one time. She was just very generous.” A friend, Florence Garcia said that Salazar took an interest in everyone. “Her home became their home,” she added, and “she saw their needs even before they did sometimes.”
Salazar cared for all kinds of people, adults as well as children, even when she was not feeling well. According to Garcia, she was always “cooking something or baking something for somebody. I think that gave her energy. She devoted it all to God, anyway.”
Besides her dedication to children in need, Salazar was active in church and community affairs. She was a member of the Catholic Women’s League and the Third Order of St. Francis. She was involved in the initial organization of La Morena restaurant which benefited the Early Learning Center. ”She was a fantastic person,” Father Reyes Rodriguez remembered, with ”a heart as big as the salt flats.”
Salazar died January 25, 1987, survived by four sons, Filbert, Toby, Joseph, and J. Leve, a daughter, Alvelina, and dozens of foster children.