Memoirs of a Piarist priest in Guanabacoa

Text and photos by Antonio Miguel Fontela Lamelas

Entrada para los niños externos.
Entrada para los niños externos.

In remembrance of my uncle, Jesús Lamelas Román, who died in 1946, a Piarist seminarian from El Buen Pastor. R. I. P.

 

With the coming to power of Fidel Castro, vast social, political and economic transformations took place, which also affected the private secular and religious schools. June 7 of this year marked the sixtieth anniversary of the publication in the Official Gazette of the Law of Nationalization of Education.1

For this reason, it is appropriate to analyze the effects caused by the intervention process six decades after its application. A reliable sample of the result obtained is constituted by the Pious Schools and in particular the one located in the municipality of Guanabacoa.

History assures that when the invasion by Playa Girón took place on April 16, 1961, the militiamen occupied the Piarists of Guanabacoa. However, classes continued and the children were examined as scheduled.2

However, the last graduation took place on June 18, 1960 because on May 2, 1961, still without concluding the 1960-1961 academic year and the school being occupied, the military chiefs presented themselves to the superior of the order, Father Pedro Carceller. , and they notified him that the center was officially nationalized.3 In this way, the school was confiscated thirty-six days before the corresponding legislation was published in the Gazette. The temple and the novitiate were not seized. The students and lay teachers were distributed among other teaching centers where they were able to conclude the school year.4

Currently, at the busy corner of Quintín Banderas and Máximo Gómez streets, passersby are amazed to discover at six meters high, the empty niche with the broken glass that housed an image of Saint Anthony of Padua, whose last “miracle” in the town of Pepe Antonio it was to have disappeared, before public view, without anyone noticing the “supernatural” feat.

The deplorable vacancy only serves as a warning to the walker interested in the history of education, so that he is not depressed by the dire state of the old school grounds sixty years after the intervention.

If the pilgrim scholar continued his journey to the entire school complex – cloister, classrooms and sports fields -, which includes some fifteen thousand square meters, the initial astonishment would be transformed into sadness, despite the warning of the Padua miracle worker, when contemplating the state “Destructive” of what was until 1961 one of the best Catholic schools in Latin America and the Caribbean, if not the best in the entire American continent.

The deterioration has advanced so much that the walls and ceilings are clearly seen about to fall on the workers of the Municipality of Education of Guanabacoa, who work in the offices installed in the immense building for more than twenty years, despite the danger .

Only the novitiate house is spared from decline and it was in this place that the Piarist Father Ricardo Alberto Sola Ros, rector and superior of the order in Cuba, had the kindness to expose a succinct history of the Order of the Clerics to the New Word. Poor Regulars of the Mother of God of the Pious Schools, better known as Piarists.

Rector Alberto Sola Ros (R. A.): I am a native of Abárzuza, a village located in Navarra, very close to Pamplona. I arrived in Cuba on August 18, 2019, four months before the pandemic started. I’ve been here for a year, ten months and a few weeks. I must clarify that as I am the only Piarist priest residing in the country, the titles of Rector or Superior lose their meaning. Let’s better say that I am the coordinator of the Piarist order in Cuba with only one member, Iván Guerra, a Cuban Piarist in a stage of philosophical training.

The order was founded on March 25, 1617 and this Guanabacoa school was created in 1857. First it was a Normal School and eleven years later it became a general education academy.5 Our charism is “Evangelize educating”; the motto, “Piedad y Letras”. The Pious Schools are present in forty-five countries.

Currently, many are being instituted in Africa, Asia and Latin America (Peru and Guatemala). We organize ourselves by provinces. Cuba belongs to the Piarist province of Central America and the Caribbean since the 1st. January 2013, along with Nicaragua, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica.

We had schools in Pinar del Río and Camagüey. Here in Havana, in addition to this center that was a school and novitiate, there were the San Rafael school in Centro Habana, the Escolapios de la Víbora and the Cojímar coexistence house, near the Poceta de los Curas, which had a soccer field and several baseball fields.

When the Pious Schools intervened, there were thirty-nine priests and two Piarist brothers. Many were expelled from the country, they were joined by others whom the government did not expel but wished to leave; they constituted, for the most part, the base of the Pious Schools of Mexico and California.

Some chose to remain on the island to support pastoral work. Initially, it was the Spaniards Ramón Clapers Fargas, Francisco Botey Vallés, Joaquín Hereu Peret, Jaime Manich Franch, Ángel Casas Bayer, Juan Cunillera Solanes, Antonio M. Entralgo de la Vallina and the Cubans Pastor González García, Julio González Tolosa, Haroldo Guerra Molerio. Also present were the Honduran Raúl Palma Gómez and Brother Vicente, a native of the Dominican Republic.6

Fathers Pastor and Hereu remained in Havana, while Clapers settled in the Convent of La Merced in Camagüey and Manich in Pinar del Río. The rest of the aforementioned emigrated shortly after. Years later, the Cuban José Coviella, who had been a lay teacher at this center, joined as a priest and Piarist.

They did a very beautiful job, because they dedicated themselves to serving the congregation individually, distributed throughout the Republic, despite the fact that they were priests of community life. They gave up living in community in very difficult times for consecrated persons and believers. Someday, the Order must give these priests, especially Manich and Clapers, the recognition they deserve.

I only met Father Joaquín Hereu, we met there in Spain, in the 1970s or 1980s, when he arrived a little ill and was sent to California where he died.

Over the years, our Order was reduced due to illness and old age, which caused the Provincial Chapter to decide on two occasions to close our representation in Cuba, but for various reasons such a decision did not materialize. God has not wanted it.

Sadness, you say? None! I have a lot of work ahead of me. I am convinced that our history in Cuba has yet to be made. I am proud to know that many celebrities from the island have been our students. Numerous doctors, scientists, artists, good men have passed through our Cuban classrooms. Their names appear in various publications that address our history.

It only hurts me to see that numerous educational resources have been ruined, which were later not used by the auditors as they should have, which will be very difficult to recover if the Pious Schools were to teach classes again. An example is the house in Cojímar, of which currently only its foundations remain. If we said, the government took it from us and then used it in something beneficial to the nation … but none of that happened. Not to mention this school in Guanabacoa, see for yourself. See how it is.

They missed a magnificent library, a museum endowed with unique pieces, and an excellent botanical garden. The Natural Sciences laboratory was dismantled, which allowed to carry out demonstrative experiments in Physics, Chemistry and Biology. It is enough to look at old photos of this school, its cloister and the garden to see the lamentable state that the intervention now presents.

N .: Have the Piarists requested permission from the government to restart classes?
A .: Unfortunately there is no dialogue possible, at least as I see it at the moment. Keep in mind that if the repeated requests made to municipal governments to remove the neighborhood garbage accumulated in the Piarists and San Judas Tadeo have not progressed, do you think that the one you propose will progress?

 

N .: In any case, Father, supposing that the government wanted a rapprochement, pressured as it is by the lack of teachers, and would like you to go back to teaching, would the Piarists be willing to start?
A .: We would start, of course, but not immediately. The recovery of the buildings requires a period of several years. Considering only the terrible state that this Guanabacoa presents, to give you an example, it would be impossible to do it in less time. Furthermore, such an endeavor requires a considerable outlay that must be amortized over a certain period, and to achieve this it would be unavoidable to charge the educational service to everyone without exception, which we are not used to, at least during the period necessary to pay for the investment.

I make a parenthesis to highlight an important feature: we had students who paid tuition and others, without resources, who could not do so, but the names of those who paid for their studies and those who did not were kept in the most absolute secret. Not even the teachers knew. There were no distinctions between one and the other. They were all absolutely the same. How about? The Piarists weren’t just for wealthy people, they were for everyone. I tell you more: we are for everyone.

However, despite the great difficulties that could arise to restart our formative work, we would do it, you can be sure. It would not be the first time that we Piarists started from nowhere. Thus began in Rome the founder of the Order, San José de Calazán. If you review our history, you will see that it has been full of conflicts, of dangers. To cite an example, during the Spanish Civil War, under the Republic, 277 Piarist priests were shot without trial in Catalonia alone.

 

N: Something very personal that you want to share with readers?
A .: Yes. I confess that when I meditate on the current state of what the Pious Schools were yesterday, I always ask myself: who lost more with the intervention, the Piarists or the Cubans?

 

N .: Thank you very much, Father Alberto, for sharing his memories.
A .: Thanks to Palabra Nueva for giving me this opportunity. Ω

 

 

 

Grades

[1] Official Gazette of the Republic of Cuba, First Section, Year LIX, Havana, Wednesday, June 7, 1961, biweekly volume, number XI, annual number 109, 4 sections, pp. 10657-10658.

2 Pedro Carceller: “Guanabacoa (CU) School, sanctuary and formation house”, 1990, original article from DENES (Piarist Encyclopedic Dictionary). See Encyclopedia-WikiPia (http://wiki.scolopi.net).

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 He had several stages in Cuba: 1857 (Escuela Normal), 1868 (Escuela Pía). See Antonio Lezáun: History of the order of pious schools (Manual of 192 pp.), Madrid, 2010, p. 157.

6 Request addressed to the Controller of the “Escuelas Pías” of San Rafael, for the permanence in the country of those mentioned in the paragraph. Message dated May 17, 1961 and signed by Ramón Clapers, S. P. Vicario Provincial.

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