Hermanos for Life

Sebastián Restrepo ‘21
(This article first appeared in the Belen Jesuit Alumni Magazine, Winter 2021 edition)

Did you know that the alumni association does not only include Belen from Cuba and Miami? It has four other Jesuit schools from Cuba as well. The history between these five schools and the ability to stay so close even after all the hardships is incredible. Founded in 1913, El Colegio de Nuestra Señora de los Dolores was a primary and secondary school in the second-largest city in Cuba, Santiago de Cuba. In an interview with three Dolorinos, we learn how the school was in Cuba and the events that happened which led them to reunite here in the United States. The interviewees included brothers Héctor, 62 and José Antonio Ortiz ‘64, and school delegate Pedro Haber ‘59.

The Ortiz brothers studied in Dolores until they were forced to leave in 1960 and ended their studies in El Colegio San Ignacio in Puerto Rico, while Haber was able to finish his studies in Belen before the exile. The Ortiz brothers explained that their grandfather graduated from Belen in La Habana in 1897, and shortly after met his wife and moved to Santiago. Once settled in Santiago, he sent his son to Dolores because he wanted to make sure his son studied under Jesuit values, and it continued like this for five generations.

The school at the time had about 300 students, and because of it, they were able to call their classmates family. For them, the school was their second home. They spoke about the love they had for their school and the emotions they felt when they returned to visit. At the time, the Jesuit schools were mainly boarding schools, and so there were students, like Haber, who lived on campus. He spoke about how all his classmates were like brothers to him, and how he has kept in touch with some of them even after they were exiled from Cuba. “I formed long-lasting friendships in boarding school, some of which are still strong today,” said Hector.

Dolores’ and Belen‘s relationship goes further than just being two Jesuit schools on the island of Cuba. Although the campuses are on opposite sides of the island, they shared teachers, priests, and the opportunity to attend both schools to graduate. With this relationship in mind, the camaraderie that both schools and the other Jesuit schools in Cuba shared becomes clearer.

Before the revolution, Dolores was preparing to renovate and expand its campus. They had bought land and were ready to start construction when they were forced to close their doors. In 1960, the Ortiz brothers left for Puerto Rico, while Haber had to serve time in the military after graduation and left Cuba in 1969 at the age of 27. They spoke about their banishment as one of the hardest things they have had to endure.

“We had to abandon everything,” said Haber. Years later in Miami, Haber began his quest to reunite with people that went to Dolores. He was put into contact with Fr. Juan M. Dorta-Duque, S.J.‚ ‘40 +, the first director of the alumni association at Belen. Knowing that many Dolorinos went to Belen, he asked Fr. Dorta-Duque to help him with a reunion. Fr. Dorta-Duque immediately agreed and they began planning. The date Haber chose for the reunion was July 18, 1992, which was the day of his graduation in Cuba. They rented the Miami Springs Country Club which had a capacity of eighty guests. Haber explains that he rented this place because he thought no more than 30-50 people would show up, but word spread, and many alumni from Jesuit Schools in many Latin American countries attended. “It was as if we were celebrating our First Communion. So many people went,” said Héctor.

I think the Ortiz brothers speak for everyone when they praised Haber and the late Fr. Dorta-Duque for planning and organizing these successful yearly reunions. Others that were praised for their efforts in maintaining the alumni association were former president and principal Fr. Marcelino García, S.J., former Belen CFO Carola Calderín +, and the former Director of Alumni Services Ricardo Raimúndez ‘90 +.

“They were all instrumental to the formation of what the alumni association is now and the reunions we have been fortunate to have,” said José. 

Once Dolores and the other Jesuit schools from Cuba joined the Belen Alumni Association, they continued to organize yearly reunions. During these reunions, alumni from all classes and campuses would share stories and pictures of when they were in Cuba. The Ortiz brothers explained how they made new friends because of the values they all shared under the Jesuit teachings.

“That is the spirit of the Jesuits, that no matter where you are from, they transmit their values and unite people,” said Hector. “We are all brothers and one family.”

These values brought about friendships from schools all over the world, not only from Cuba and Miami.

“Despite the differences in culture, age, and geographic location we have always been able to forge and maintain strong bonds with our brothers all over the world,” said Crescencio J. Ruíz ‘76, president of the Alumni Association. “The reason is found in the teachings of St. Ignatius: We share the belief that we are called to be excellent in our endeavors, we defend the dignity and value of each and every person, we are Men for Others, and we find God in all things.”
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Belen Jesuit Preparatory School was founded in 1854 in Havana, Cuba by Queen Isabel II of Spain.  The task of educating students was assigned to the priests and brothers of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), whose teaching tradition is synonymous with academic excellence and spiritual discipline.  In 1961, the new political regime of Cuba confiscated the School property and expelled the Jesuit faculty.  The School was re-established in Miami the same year, and over the next decade, continued to grow.  Today, Belen Jesuit sits on a 30-acre site in western Dade County, only minutes away from downtown Miami.