Mari Rodriguez accepted a job with Central Power and Light and moved to the Rio Grande Valley in 1994.
She thought it would be only for a year. Her plan did not include meeting a pharmacist from San Antonio named Cecilio who had also moved to the Valley. Mari would not return to Corpus Christi, where she lived previously. Mari and Cecilio would walk down the aisle.
The couple then welcomed Loretta to their family, and that would be followed by Rebecca, Diego and Lia. While Mari was home on maternity leave after delivering Lia, deregulation caused the elimination of her job at CPL. Though unexpected, the loss of her job meant Mari could stay home with her newborn and three toddlers.
“That was my biggest dream,” she said. “At the time, I didn’t see what the future held.”
In 2011, Mari and Cecilio learned their family of six would soon be a family of seven. At the time, Cecilio had begun recording a CD.
“He told me, ‘I want to leave a legacy of a man of faith for my children,'” Mari said. “After attending an ACTS Retreat, he decided to serve the Lord with his gift for music.”
Song lyrics would come to him during his adoration time, she explained, and soon he had 14 songs for his CD. Loretta, 12 by this time, chose song number seven on the CD, “Love and Honor Jesus,” as the title song. On the cover is the cross on Santa Cruz Hill in Starr County erected by Cecilio’s great-great grandfather, Domingo Pena. It seemed only fitting for Mari and Cecilio to name baby number five Cruz.
The CD was produced in 2012 and Cecilio began selling it through their church, Holy Spirit, in McAllen. At the time, while deeply fulfilled as a wife and mother, Mari experienced a lingering question.
“You kind of lose yourself,” she said. “I began wondering, ‘What am I supposed to do?'”
Faith & Family Spark An Idea
Then Mari had an idea. She would make bracelets, and the “bling” would draw people to the table, where they would learn about Cecilio’s CD. The plan worked. Then, just as Loretta was entering college, Cecilio’s income was cut nearly in half as a result of the changes in the state’s pharmacy reimbursement rates. Mari still marvels at the timing.
“I needed to find a way to help with our family finances,” she said. “God was so good that I was able to find a way to do just that while remaining in my home with my kiddos.”
People began seeking Mari out for her handcrafted bracelets, so it seemed only natural for her to begin making earrings and bracelets, as well. Soon, Mari developed into a businesswoman, listening to her customers for inspiration and following her own evolving artistry.
“I never knew I had that gift,” Mari said. “I grew up with a creative mom who made floral arrangements and jewelry, but I never knew I had the desire to create.”
Then, in 2018, Mari noticed construction on a new plaza on North 10th Street in McAllen, Zinnia Crossing.
“I told Loretta, ‘That would be my dream,'” Mari said. “She asked me, “Then why don’t you do it?'”
Realizing a Rewarding Dream
In October of that year, Mari opened her store, Love & Honor Jesus, in Zinnia Crossing. She had fun creating the displays, which is obvious from the moment you walk in. Wooden crates on the wall hold religious statues, crosses and other gift items. Bracelets and earrings rest on tiered metal serving trays. Wire baskets serve as shelves for Milagros crosses.
“Our store has an eclectic feel,” Mari said. “It represents our culture and has a kind of ‘fiesta’ theme.”
At Love & Honor Jesus, customers will find rosaries custom made by Mari and Cecilio. There are vintage religious pieces that have been restored and refinished. In addition to bracelets, necklaces and earrings in multiple colors and styles, Mari specializes in customized jewelry.
“Some people do not want Catholic medals, so I can change them out,” she said. “I can also match necklaces and earrings and other pieces.”
She carries men’s jewelry, Cecilio’s CD, door blessings, candles and statues. The store also has a large selection of Milagros.
“Each of these tiny medals represents thanksgiving for a specific blessing or a prayer for what the Milagro represents,” Mari said.
She never planned to be an entrepreneur, but, like meeting Cecilio, the unexpected turned out to be far better than what she expected.
“The greatest reward is to work for yourself,” she said, “because you reap the benefits of your hard work. I want to be an example to my daughters, too. The fact that I found something I’m passionate about while bringing people closer to the Lord taught me we each have a gift.”
And for Mari, supporting small businesses is not just about customers. It is also about the business owners.
“When you start comparing yourself to others and competing with them, it just brings you down,” she said. “I never see other women as my direct competition. We support each other.”