Church contributions to education in Cuba

Por: Hno. Jesús Bayo M. FMS

To understand the contributions of the Catholic Church to education in Cuba during the first sixty years of the twentieth century, it is necessary to frame this public service of the Church to Cuban society together with others that ecclesial institutions made in the field of health, social service, culture and charity. within that historical context. Asylums of children and the elderly, care for the sick in hospitals and prisoners in prisons, schools and orphanages, colleges and universities were “works of mercy and charity” attended by religious congregations and ecclesial entities.
Education at the beginning of the twentieth century in Cuba did not start from scratch. As in all processes of social transformation, new realities arise when there is adequate and prepared ground. The Republic began on May 20, 1902 with the Constitution drafted in 1901, but under American tutelage. A sociocultural heritage was received from cologne and the independence process, especially during the nineteenth century when Cuban Creole were forging independence.
The Constitutions of 1901 and 1940 recognized the collaboration of private entities with the State in its teaching role. Public or state education and private or private education were not incompatible or contradictory during the early years of the Republic. The Church’s collaboration in education was significant, albeit dependent and contingent on state control. The educational institutions of the Catholic Church adapted to the circumstances, when the State assumed educational management and expanded school coverage, as was the case in modern states and in the new republics that achieved sovereignty during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Therefore, before addressing the Church’s contributions to education in Cuba during the first half of the twentieth century, it is worth remembering some educational milestones during the Colony.

Educational contributions of the Church in the colonial period
During the centuries of the Colony, the Church was the main institution that cared about education, which explains that many of the basic, normal schools for teacher training and universities were born under the eaves of the Catholic Church, which continued to collaborate for sixty years of the Republic.1 We could even add that the Church continues to educate until now , because the teaching and magisterial function belongs to him by antonomasia, by vocation and by missionary mandate.2
Each century and each historical period has its own particular characteristics, typical of society and the demographics of the time. During the 16th and 17th centuries, educational coverage was scarce in Cuba, as in other parts of the world, and was limited to a handful of selected students attending convent schools in Dominicans and Franciscans. Education for the lives of children and young people was done in the family, parishes and jobs.
The Diocesan Synod of Cuba held in 1681 concerned that children would be educated and teachers trained. Bishop Diego Evelino Hurtado y Vélez de Compostela (1685–1704) founded, together with his episcopal residence, the San Ambrosio college-seminary in 1689, and the San Francisco de Sales school for girls in 1693. Both institutions would later have a long tradition.

During the twentieth century religious orders specialized in education and social assistance appear. The pioneers in this service were the Bethlemites, who arrived in Cuba in 1704, who had been founded in Guatemala by the holy brother Pedro de Betancourt.
In 1722, Bishop Gerónimo Valdés founded the Conciliar Seminary San Basilio el Magno, in Santiago de Cuba, in order to form priests for the only diocese that existed at the time.
In 1724, the Jesuits ran the San José school in Havana until they were expelled in 1767; in the same place will be founded after the school-seminar San Carlos and San Ambrosio.
In 1728, the Royal and Pontifical University of San Jerónimo was founded, in the Dominican convent San Juan de Letrán in Havana, until the friars were expelled and the convent was unmorted in 1842, to become the Royal and Literary University of Havana.
In 1768, he gave himself the royal certificate to create the Royal Seminary College of San Carlos and San Ambrosio on the foundations of the former Jesuit college of San José, which began its work in 1773.
In 1793, the Patriotic Society of Friends of the Country or Royal Economic Society of Havana was founded, which created numerous schools to promote primary education, grouping insignes teachers and benefactors of education, religious and lay people.
In the nineteenth century, the service of religious congregations dedicated to the primary and secondary education of children was increased.
In 1803 Mothers Ursulinas came from Louisiana and founded a school for girls whose trajectory and prestige will last until 1961.
In 1815 the Escolapios founded the Calasancia Academy of Havana.
On January 2, 1847, the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul arrived, who will attend to homes of orphaned girls, schools and charitable houses. That same year came also Fathers Paul (Congregation of the Mission) who will collaborate in various charitable works, missions and education.
In 1852 they arrived in Santiago de Cuba, from Spain, Marie Antonia Paris and four other young women, who will give rise to the Religious of Mary Immaculate (Claretianas) guided by Bishop Claret. In 1853, religious novels founded the school of Mary Immaculate in Santiago, in the service of the poor girls of the city.
In 1857 the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Jesus arrive in Havana, founded by St. Magdalene Sofia Barat, who open the Sacred Heart school in Havana, and other women’s schools in different cities.
In 1857, another contingent of missionary Schools arrived in Cuba, which founded the first Normal School in the former Convent San Francisco, Guanabacoa.
In 1869, Cardinal Sancha founded the Sisters of the Poor or Daughters of Charity, in Santiago de Cuba, who will attend homes and schools for poor children.
In 1871, the Sisters of The Love of God arrived, which had just been founded in 1864 by Fr. Mariano Usera, who was ecclesiastical governor of the Archbishopric of Santiago de Cuba and dean of the Cathedral of Havana.
In 1880, the Missionaries of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Claretians) arrived in Cuba and opened a school in Santiago. In 1891, Father Valentín Salinero founded the Religious of the Apostolate of the Sacred Heart, in Havana, dedicated to teaching.
In 1891, the Dominicans of the Rosary arrive in Cuba and will serve numerous orphaned children during the rigors of the War of Independence (1895-1898).
In 1891, the Passionist Fathers also arrived, and settled in Santa Clara, dedicated to the missions, education and catechesis of children.
In 1894, the Sisters of Sacred Heart Charity came to Havana.
In 1895, the Trinitarian Fathers arrive, and after the War of Independence in 1898 they founded a school in Cardenas.
In 1899, the Augustinians came to Havana, from the United States, to attend the parish of Christ of the Good Journey in Havana, and in 1901 they opened the Colegio San Agustín.

Contributions from the Catholic Church
to education in Cuba between 1900 and 1961
a) Social and educational context
In 1900, Enrique José Varona (1849–1933) was appointed secretary of public instruction by military governor Leonard Word, during the first American intervention. With his election, the Varona Plan was established that encouraged lay teaching, emphasized scientific subjects and eliminated Latin, Greek, German and the History of Spain from the secondary curriculum.
The Varona Plan imposed the obligation of primary education and disseminated the second education. Although he favored the lay teaching taught by the State, there was freedom of education and tolerance for individual entities (legal and natural persons, religious and lay societies) to collaborate with the teaching role of the State. Public education was funded by the State, but it did not subsidize private education or private entities, which led to an educational elitism of private education and, as a consequence, an educational quality that used to be related to the economic possibilities of families. The Varona Plan fought all kinds of dogmatism, left and right, and favored science and education no matter where they came from.
In this socio-political context, at the beginning of the Republic, the Church adapted to maintain parish schools and schools belonging to religious congregations. In addition, congregations arriving in Cuba founded new schools where many students whose families could afford their education were educated, and others who were scholarships by Church institutions. In religious schools and parish schools there were always a significant number of scholarship students whose education was subsidized by people and charitable foundations.
In 1902, the Constitution of the Republic was enacted, which gave legal basis to freedom of education and allowed the establishment of schools run by individuals. Many religious congregations came to Cuba to collaborate in education. They had a Catholic confessional idea that was not at odds with public and lay education taught by the state.
Other religious confessions and private entities also collaborated and promoted various educational models in their schools. Special mention deserves the different Protestant denominations that arrived in Cuba during the early years of the twentieth century to found churches. Generally, next to the temples they also built their basic or secondary schools. In addition, religious and teaching freedom allowed groups of families and teachers to found their own educational establishments, with permission and under the supervision of the Ministry of Education.

b) Population increase
during the first half of the twentieth century
According to data provided by censuses conducted in different years, we can observe cuba’s great population growth.3 In the first quarter of the twentieth century the population doubled from one and a half million inhabitants to three million. In the second quarter of a century the population doubled again and exceeded one and a half million in 1950.4
If during the first fifty years of the twentieth century population growth was so significant, this implies that there were 25% of children and young people under the age of twenty. Therefore, the need for educational service was imperative. The State and individuals, especially the Catholic Church, took on this public service through schooling and education.
In 1915, there were 311,408 primary school pupils enrolled in public schools in Cuba, to which 21,247 primary school pupils enrolled in private schools were added. The total number of primary school children was 332,655 pupils. The strong presence of public education with private collaboration is already observed.5 There were 17,625 pupils in the second teaching. Of these, 6,495 attended official schools, 5,189 attended private or built-in schools, and 5,941 were covered free of charge.

Datos de número de alumnos

In 1923, the number of primary school pupils enrolled in public schools amounted to 377,475 pupils; of which 277,652 were white and 99,823 were colored. They are to be added 33,165 students from private schools (30,315 white and 2,850 in color; 18,148 boys and 15,017 women). Therefore, there were 410,640 primary school pupils in total; of which 307,967 were white and 102,673 were colored. (Note that 25% of primary school students were colored. Eighty percent of all students were in private schools. In private schools, 8.6% of pupils were colored).
According to the 1947 census, there were 1,250,000 children from five to seventeen on the island. Of these, they attended class 660,000, 52.8%. There were 520,000 pupils in public schools and 140,000 in private schools.6 In Catholic religious schools there were 79,200 children, corresponding to 12% of the total school population. Note that that year in 1947, in Pinar del Río, 53% of pupils attended public school, in Havana 71%, in Matanzas 71%, in Las Villas 58%, in Camaguey 36% and in the East 34%.
As noted, public education had no full coverage in the capital or provinces, especially in large rural areas of the country. On the other hand, most of the population was concentrated in these rural areas, because there was not yet the phenomenon of migration to cities that would be effective with the mechanization of agricultural production. Private education would therefore have a significant presence in cities and also in the poorest rural areas of the country.7
According to the 1953 census, the total number of primary school pupils in public schools was 539,230 pupils to which 119,638 primary school pupils are added in private schools. There were therefore 658,868 primary school pupils in total. In middle school (secondary, normal, technical, artistic schools) there were 59,734 pupils in total, and 22,648 university students.
The total population in Cuba, according to the 1953 census, was 5,829,029 people, and the population between five and twenty-four years was 2,459,000. Therefore, there was a schooled population of 811,250 children and young people (33% of the population between the age of five and twenty-four).8 In this context, the Catholic Church’s contribution to education was a significant service.
It is interesting to note that preschool education already existed at this time and had 58,500 students enrolled in kindergartens or kindergartens. Public education added preschool to primary school with an enrolment of about 586,500 pupils, representing 80% of total enrolment.
Private education covered approximately 20% of all primary and secondary school pupils. It also existed at that time, in addition to the state universities, the private university Santo Tomás de Villanueva, founded in 1946 by the Order of St. Augustine in Havana.9

c) Arrival in Cuba of numerous
educational congregations during the twentieth century
From 1900 onwards and during the first half of the twentieth century, more than thirty-five religious congregations dedicated to teaching arrived in Cuba, which gave a strong impetus to primary, secondary and technical education throughout the nation, especially in towns and cities. It is true that rural fields and environments were not prioritized by religious educational institutions, because urban centres grouped the emerging population, and because the state did not subsidize particular education, eer in cities or in the fields. However, the Church always maintained schools where poor children in the fields and cities attended for free. Religious orders and congregations often maintained free schools for poor children, and there were a significant number of scholarship students in all schools. Parishes and dioceses also supported parish schools through charities.

Moreover, during the first half of the twentieth century, public education had as its priority the extension of primary education to all children in the country. Private education, confessional or not, collaborated with this objective, as well as collaborating in the implementation of middle, commercial and technical education. In this way, with the collaboration between public and private education, Cuba would become an excellent level of education at the end of the first half of the twentieth century, and achieve one of the best education rates in Latin America by the end of the 1950s.
To the new congregations that arrived during the twentieth century in Cuba was added the educational effort of twenty-five other congregations and religious orders that had already been established during the previous centuries and which continued to exercise teaching as the work of social apostolate.10
Among the religious congregations that arrived in Cuba during this century are:
Dominicas de Santa Catalina (1900);
Oblatas of Divine Providence (1900);
Marist Brothers (1903);
Brothers of La Salle (1905);
Missionaries of the Heart of Mary (1911);
Religious School (1911);
Philippian Nuns (1914);
Santa Teresa Company (1914);
Salesians of Don Bosco (1917);
Slaves of the Sacred Heart (1920);
Daughters of Mary Help of Christians (1921);
Siervas de San José (1926);
Company of Mary Our Lady (1926);
Ladies Catechists (1937);
Canadian Missionaries (1942);
Carmelite Missionaries (1951);
Society of St. Paul (1958).
In 1959, male and female religious congregations had more than five hundred primary and secondary schools of their own in Cuba, as well as collaborating in parish schools. Most of these educational institutions had good infrastructure and adequate educational resources. The total number of private schools (religious and lay) was close to 2,000 schools.
As you can see, the contribution of private education was significant during the first half of the twentieth century, not only because more than 20% of the national students were educated in private schools, but because of the educational quality that characterized them, and for collaborating for the common good in the service of families and the State in their teaching role. This collaboration was not against state management and did not diminish its meritorious efforts in public education with the creation of schools and schools in rural municipalities and villages.
In fact, the bulk of primary and secondary education coverage was done during the twentieth century thanks to public education, which did not prevent private collaboration. This same education policy was implemented in almost all modern States, and continues to be implemented today as a guarantee of freedom of education and lawful association to contribute to the common good. This is a policy commensurate with human rights and the Social Doctrine of the Church.11
d) Some historical educational milestones
in the first half of the twentieth century
As historical milestones for education in Cuba during the twentieth century, we can remember that in 1909 the first School Law of the Republic of Cuba was published. Between 1913 and 1921 Normal Schools were created in Santa Clara, Havana and the East. Censuses and registrations of tuition and school attendance are established.
During the 1933 revolution, there were educational demands for quality and increased educational coverage. In 1937, university students achieved University Autonomy and requested several educational reforms for secondary education (middle or pre-university education at the time).
The 1940 Constitution ratifies freedom of education and research. Primary education becomes compulsory and free, schools are created for adult education and normal schools for teacher training. It also authorizes the creation of universities and other higher education centres and various academies, in the public and private sphere. In both, school coverage is progressively increased.
At the end of the 1942-1943 academic year, there were 587 private schools in Cuba with 71,077 students. The global and school population will continue to increase in the following decades with a sharp increase in demographics, so public and private schools were not yet sufficient. There were also technical-professional schools run by religious congregations. They were joined by the Institutos Superiores and the Universidad Católica Santo Tomás de Villanueva, founded by the Augustinians in 1946, which would operate until 1959.
In 1953, 58% of Cuban children between the ages of six and fourteen are in school. It was a good percentage at the time, in the global and American context, since most nations had lower coverage. The illiteracy of people over the age of ten amounted in Cuba to 26%, a low percentage, compared to the illiteracy that existing at that time in other countries. At the same stage, 50% of children between the age of six and eleven attend primary education, with six years of compulsory schooling. On the other hand, schools and teachers were lacking and there was a strong dropout, especially in rural areas, where children joined agricultural work early.
In 1958, Cuba continued to make progress in indicators of educational coverage. UNESCO reported the following data on education in Cuba:
literacy was 66.7%, and finished fourth among all countries in the Americas, after the United States, Canada and Argentina;
the duration of compulsory education was eight years, one of the most advanced countries in the world (most nations had six years of compulsory primary education at the time);
public expenditure on education was 23% of GDP, and 12% of the World’s
public and private schools had good infrastructure and were modern and functional (many of these schools, belonging to religious congregations at the time, today continue to offer public education, having been nationalized by Decree of June 6, 1961).

Contributions to education in Cuba by the Catholic Church during the first half of the twentieth century had a significant impact. On the one hand, numerous Catholic educators left their imronta in the training of teachers, in public education and in the direction of private schools that they themselves founded. In school and in the public university there was never a lack of educators who conveyed the values of Christian social doctrine. On the other hand, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church cared about education and promoted the foundation of numerous parish schools that were attended by Catholic religious and teachers. In addition, numerous congregations with their educational charisms collaborated in public service and evangelization through education.
The population increase in Cuba during the first half of the twentieth century demanded great effort and generous dedication to the teaching exercise. The Church’s contribution to this humanitarian cause was a rhetorical reality of merit, although not without limitations. The freedom of teaching guaranteed by human rights and the Church’s vocation as a teacher was made possible by the dedication of many people, religious and lay people, who dedicated their lives to such a dignified service of evangelization and human promotion. We hope that this indispensable vocation of the Church, at the service of evangelization, can also be effective in the 21st century, through the constitutional guarantees offered by freedom of teaching, association, communication and expression.

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