January of 1959 marked the beginning of a dramatic change for millions of Cubans who hung very high expectations on what could have possibly been something new and different for the island. Most Cubans concede that change was necessary, but what came instead from the small olive-green clad army that descended the mountains of the Sierra Maestra and into the heart of Havana was more than what most bargained for. In May of 1961, there was another marked beginning for an even smaller group, the black-clad army of Jesuit priests and brothers who had worked at El Colegio de Belen in Marianao.
The doors of what was considered El Palacio de la Educación were closed, the students sent home, and the Jesuits expelled. Most would have called it quits, thrown in the towel, waved the white flag of defeat, but not this group. These faithful sons of Ignatius simply saw their expulsion as a mere inconvenience that would more than likely become an extraordinary opportunity.
And an opportunity it was. Just three months after being exiled, that small band of brothers reopened the doors of Belen Jesuit Preparatory School in Miami, Florida. The rest is history.
This evening, we gather to inaugurate this beautiful park whose purpose is to recognize those courageous men who ventured far and worked hard to assure that tyranny would not have the last word and that Ignatian education would flourish. This park is a testament to what can be accomplished when you roll up your sleeves and stay the course knowing that you are fulfilling your obligation to God and His Church.
There is an important story to this concrete backdrop that holds the rusted plaque on which the Jesuits’ names are carved. When we were building the aquatic center behind me, Johnny Medina ‘77, the architect, asked for a section of concrete to be poured before the actual walls went up in order to make sure that it was going to be done correctly and according to the necessary specs and code. It seems that the piece did not turn out as well as the builders wanted it. So, it was discarded, left off to the side and even moved haphazardly several times throughout construction. Now, as the Psalmist in the Old Testament once sang, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. By the Lord has this been done; it is wonderful in our eyes” (118:22-23).
Isn’t this the story of the Jesuits being recognized tonight and memorialized in this quad? Discarded by a violent communist regime and strewn haphazardly off to the side, they quickly made their way here to Miami and got to work. These men, while at one point rejected, have now become the cornerstone upon which Belen Jesuit is built.
These men are heroes and examples of what it is to be a Jesuit and what it is to be a man. They are definitely worth their salt. The phrase, “standing on the shoulders of giants,” that adorns the pillar upon which the bust of Fr. Felipe Arroyo stands is attributed to the great scientist Sir Isaac Newton and captures perfectly who these men were and what we have been able to accomplish because of them.
I have often referred to Belen as a living body. The Guiteras Library is the brain, the Dining Hall is the stomach, and the chapel is the heart. Now we have the lungs. Not only do the many plants and trees in this living space help provide for us the rich oxygen we breathe, but they also provide for us a beautiful place to pause and take a breather, to reflect and take pause.
This quad is also didactic. Throughout the gardens, you will notice plaques that identify each living specimen with both their common and scientific names as well as their country of origin. Think of it, there are plants and trees in this garden from all over the world. From as far away as India and Australia to as close as the Everglades and Cuba. In every one of these different countries, no matter how near or far, you can find Jesuits, who like nature, live to tell the story and the glory of God’s creation.
When Fr. Arroyo dreamt of this school and this campus, he had the vision of a center of learning that would form young men from all over the world. You may not know this, but he wanted to call this campus The Belen Intercultural Center. Although these 33 acres were never christened with that name, I can not help but think that it was in the spirit of Fr. Arroyo that we were able to gather in this garden living things from various parts of the world. Now, not only are we blessed with a diversity of students and families, but this park also reflects the natural diversity of God’s extraordinary planet.
I would be remiss if I didn’t thank several people tonight:
First, the mastermind of the quad, Architect Johnny Medina. Medina, fueled by his love for Belen and the Jesuits who taught him, along with his team designed this quad.
Second, a very special thanks to Alfred Consuegra ‘84, who took this project on his shoulders and worked hard in making sure that it was brought to fruition. Many were a Saturday and Sunday when I would walk out here and Alfred would be raking, cleaning, watering. Thank you, Fred!
Miguel and Ani Zaldivar who years ago provided the school with this statue of St. Ignatius of Loyola that now adorns the quad.
Ray Madiedo ’84 for installing the lights and all the electrical work and Javier Suarez for providing them.
Cesar Cajigas ’97 for the pavers and cobblestone.
Peter Strelkow our landscape architect who worked tirelessly to bring this quad to life.
Roger Tomasino who provided all the concrete structures for the drains.
Carlos Penin ’73 for providing his services as a civil engineer.
Eddy ‘81 and Alby Arazoza ‘84 who provided the plants and trees.
Carlos de la Cruz Sr. and Carlos de la Cruz Jr. ’81 for their generous donation to this project and who inspired the naming of the quad after Fr. Felipe Arroyo.
The Garrido Family who provided the foundational gift to begin the Fr. Felipe Arroyo Endowed Scholarship.
But most importantly, we thank the Jesuit priests and brothers whose names are on the plaque behind St. Ignatius of Loyola. They are the true builders of Belen Jesuit. There is no question in my mind that our father Ignatius is proud of their resilience and passion, their hard work and dedication. Thousands of young men in Miami have been and will continue to be educated thanks to their efforts. They are the true giants on whose shoulders we stand on.