The Alumni Association includes alumni from the Jesuit Schools in Cuba and Miami: Colegio de Belén en Marianao, Escuela Electromecánica de Belén en Marianao, Colegio Sagrado Corazón de Jesús en Sagua, El Colegio de Nuestra Señora de los Dolores en Santiago, Colegio de Nuestra Señora de Monserrat en Cienfuegos, Belen Jesuit Preparatory School in Miami.
What can you tell us about your hometown?
I grew up in Sagua la Grande, a city located in Las Villas, Cuba. In 1952, there were 36,000 people living in the city. I remember it being very windy, but the breeze was a blessing to help us with the heat. The beaches had white sand and very blue water. It was beautiful.
What was your experience with the Jesuits in Sagua?
I received a first-class education at Colegio Sagrado Corazón de Jesús in Sagua la Grande which was an elementary school. At the age of 12, as sixth-graders, we began to participate in the Spiritual Exercises. It was there that my classmate and childhood friend, Marcelino García, began his vocation to the priesthood as a member of the Jesuits. After sixth grade, I went to study in a secular middle and high school, but my classmates and I still wanted to stay connected with the Jesuits. Our solution, supported by the Jesuits (Antonio Altamira, Mariano Ruiz, Benigno Juanes, M. Bedoya, and others such as Brother Estévez) was to create a Marian congregation. We created the Agrupación Católica de Sagua, a catholic youth group of 120 members. We had a radio show called Social Justice, where we tried to explain the Social Doctrine of the Church.
Today, my classmates and I meet once a year in the Cosculluela Hall and the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception at Belen Jesuit. Despite the time that has passed and the distance between us, thanks to the work of Alejandro Bienes, Henry Pujol, and others, we continue
to reminisce about our time in Sagua and the Jesuits that meant so much to us.
How would you describe your younger years?
I was an average student. Over the years, my spirituality strengthened as a member of the Agrupación Católica de Sagua (especially during spiritual retreats). Throughout my years, I learned to love Jesus and follow the way of Mary. In 1956, during a spiritual retreat, I reflected and discerned what I had done so far and what I hoped to do in the future for Christ. I then understood that my vocation was marriage and building a family. Lucky for me, I was already
in love with Marta, the woman I would eventually call my wife and whom I’ve been married to for 59 years.
What is an important lesson that you learned from the Jesuits?
The most important thing I learned was to “Amar a Dios y al prójimo como a ti mismo” (love God and others as yourself). The Jesuits also instilled in me a love of books that has stayed with me throughout my life.
Who or what has made an impact in your life?
Aside from my parents, I would say my wife Martica, whom I have been in love with for 65 years. I’ve also had many great friends, especially two who followed their vocation and became Jesuit priests (Marcelino García and Ernesto Fernández Travieso). Also, the Spiritual Exercises directed by Fr. Amando Llorente, S.J. of the ACU, played a very big role in my formation.
What do you hold most dear?
After God, I hold most dear my wife, our four children, five grandchildren, and a great-grandson (to date). I thank God the list is quite long and full of family and friends.
Can you describe a memorable moment while you were a student?
While at school, I was known for getting into fights with my friends for any little thing. I often had a short temper and was easily triggered. One day my classmate, César Menéndez, and some other friends gave a plaque to me that read paciencia y buen carácter, to remind me to be more patient and have a better disposition. At the time, it was funny, and I learned on that day that I needed to be better.
What career path did you choose and why?
Initially, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer. Unfortunately, because of Cuba‘s political situation, I had to do my second year of law school twice. First from 1957-1958 at the University of La Salle. Then from 1959-1960 at the University of Havana, where I was expelled from because of my political ideology and anti-communist struggles. After 5 years of fighting for Cuba’s freedom, and with no foreseeable chance of winning the fight, plus a growing family, I began a business of selling, distributing, and publishing books: Librería y Distribuidora Universal y Ediciones Universal. I’m grateful for the 55 years I spent in that industry.
How do you make a difference in that industry?
Our bookstore was a hub for everyone interested in reading in Spanish- both in Miami and beyond. With almost 2,000 books published, especially about Cuban themes and authors, I think we contributed immensely to the Cuban culture. We served writers by making their publishing dreams a reality and then disseminating their works. One of our most important collections was the Félix Varela Collection- dedicated to Christian/Cuban themes. This idea was born at a Spiritual Retreat at the Agrupación Católica Universitaria (ACU) in Miami.
What advice do you have for current students?
While at school, I was known for getting into fights with my friends for any little thing. I often had a short temper and was easily triggered. One day my classmate, César Menéndez, and some other friends gave a plaque to me that read paciencia y buen carácter, to remind me to be more patient and have a better disposition. At the time, it was funny, and I learned on that day that I needed to be better. As an octogenarian, I‘m almost afraid of the present. I think the same thing has happened to every generation throughout time. However, the changes in our time are astonishing as can be seen with our arrival on the moon, artificial intelligence, and other forms of communication that make the virtual seem almost personal. The speed of these changes is a challenge for human consciousness. We
cannot forget God or think there are more important things.