Why WE Give Back

The Arán Brothers - Alberto '72, Fernando '75, and Armando '80
This article first appeared in the Belen Jesuit Alumni Magazine, Summer 2021 edition.

Where do I start? The story is long and it pains me to put it into words, but the reason I give back to Belen is to honor the sacrifice my parents, Armando and Lidia Arán, made to give my two brothers and me a Jesuit education.  

In 1961, when I was just 6 years old, my parents made the heart-wrenching decision to send me to the United States alone from Cuba as part of Operation Peter Pan, especially after losing my older brother who died of leukemia two years earlier. Fortunately, my parents and younger brother Fernando joined me 6 months after I arrived and my youngest brother Mandy was born in the U.S.

At the time, I attended Southside Elementary and excelled in school. My mother’s childhood friend, who was also our neighbor, had a son who was a Jesuit seminarian. Through them, we were able to make the connection and I was able to make the switch and attend Belen Jesuit. Thanks to the generosity of the Jesuits we received a 50% scholarship ($200 scholarship of the $400 tuition).  

My parents worked hard to pay the remainder of the tuition. Although a lawyer in Cuba, in the United States my father parked cars for a living, in addition to having other jobs. We used to roll coins from his tips in order to make due. Eventually, my younger brothers, Fernando and Mandy, followed in my footsteps and also attended Belen. We were all invested in the school. I remember fondly the many Belen basketball games and Boy Scout events my family attended.

Upon graduation, I attended Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama with a Jesuit Honors scholarship.  After graduating from college, I married my high school sweetheart, Luci, and I went on to attend medical school at Tulane University. Luci and I have two children, Alexis and Tico ‘04.

I’ve always been a believer in Belen. Fathers Cartaya, Ripoll, García, Travieso, Baldor, Coach Mariano, and the class of 1972 all hold a special place in my heart. With the help of the Jesuits, my parents were able to make sure we had a good education. I give back to Belen to honor my parents’ memory and know that the contributions we have made will help in countless ways. For me, it’s not only about giving back to Belen but giving back to others just as the Jesuits taught us.  

Future generations of the Arán family will roam the halls of Belen, as did my son and three of my nephews. I want the memory of my parents to hold strong because, without their sacrifices, none of us would have had any of the opportunities we have been blessed with throughout our lifetime.  Belen will live in the Arán family forever; and with three grandsons and two grand-nephews on deck, we look forward to continuing the Belen tradition of ‘Men for Others’ with the generations to come.   

I give back to Belen Jesuit because Belen has given so much to my family and me.  The three Arán boys were recipients of scholarships that allowed us the privilege of a Belen education, one I am so grateful for.  It wasn’t until I was an upperclassman that I realized that while we were students, Belen often didn’t have enough money to even run the school. That was the kind and generous heart of the Jesuit priests that lives on today.  

I remember when I was in high school, the student council organized high school dances that were very well attended. We gave out flyers at Assumption, Carrollton, Lourdes, and Notre Dame. We charged $2.00 for the pre-sale tickets, $2.50 at the door, and $3.00 for chaperones.  We also raised the air conditioner’s temperature at the dance hall to sell more sodas with lots of ice at 25 cents each. We had great margins! After paying all the expenses, the dances would clear as much as $1,000 each, which was a lot of money at the time. When a dance was coming up, Mr. Camacho’s assistant, Pedro, would come up to me and ask, “Fernando, is the dance this weekend or next?” He was not planning to attend but asked because he needed to budget for the upcoming payroll. It was obvious the school needed the cash flow from our dances to make ends meet. So even when Belen struggled with its finances, the Jesuit priests were generously giving scholarships to us and many others.  

My brothers, Albert and Mandy, and I gave to Belen’s effort to build the Our Lady of Belen Chapel in honor of the sacrifices that our parents, Armando and Lidia, made for us to attend Belen. Along with financial sacrifices, they also sacrificed so much of their time, even as they were working multiple jobs.  Our parents were especially involved in the Boy Scouts. They organized meetings, volunteered to clean the school on Saturday mornings after the meetings, hosted spaghetti and meatball dinner fundraising events, and planned campouts for Belen’s Troop.  

We urge the alumni whose parents sacrificed so much for their children to receive a Belen education, to consider giving back to Belen with their time and treasure. Let’s make sure that Belen will live forever to ensure a Jesuit education, and a moral and spiritual formation for our children, grandchildren, and beyond. 

Belen Jesuit has been a part of my life since my earliest memories. I was the third Arán to roam the halls in Little Havana. We were a family of ten living happily in a one-bedroom apartment. Mom worked days and dad worked nights back then so someone would always be around for us. Our parents, Armando and Lidia, worked hard their entire lives to provide us with a Catholic education and it’s because of them that our Belen journey began.  

When my oldest brother Albert ‘72 started at Belen, we had only been in the country for less than 5 years. Belen was our second home. It was the only point of reference for our spirituality, education, and social life. My older brother, Fernando ’75, soon followed at Belen. Being the youngest of the three, I didn’t realize the sacrifice my parents endured to make our education at Belen possible until it was my turn to attend Belen (Class of ’80). 

Some of my fondest early childhood memories revolve around Belen. For instance, I remember watching my brother Albert’s basketball games versus LaSalle at St. Patrick’s gym on Miami Beach (our home court). Also, those early football games versus Miami Military Academy for Fernando, in the first years of our football program were very exciting. My favorite and most memorable memory, on my 17th birthday, was the classic football win over LaSalle at their field 3-0. Frank de la Cámara scored the only points of the game. Vince García, Henry Avila, and Alfredo Berard lead the defensive battle. The game came down to a goal-line stand with seconds left on the clock by yours truly and the late Carlos “Yanon” Yañez to cement the win. 

Belen has been a gift and I am forever grateful, not only to my parents for their foresight, but also to my brothers who attended before me and paved the way, and to the educators who taught me so much.  My years at Belen were truly transformative. My son Brendan ’23 and my nephews, Tico ’04, Ferny ’06, and Robert ’08 also experienced the gift that my parents gave us.  

I give back because Belen has given so much to me. They gave my family and me the opportunity to better ourselves. I want to pay forward that same opportunity to today’s generation so they too can continue the legacy of Belen. Please consider doing the same and give back to the school that gives so much. 

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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.