When a group of 21 Convent & Stuart Hall faculty and staff touched down in Havana, Cuba on February 18 to begin a week-long tour of the island nation, the significance of the moment was unmistakable. Not only had they reached a place off limits to Americans for decades, but it was months away from the 200-year anniversary of St. Philippine Duchesne's voyage from France to the New World. Cuba's shores were the first land she saw in her pursuit to bring Sacred Heart education to the Americas.
The ship sailed up and down the coast of Cuba and St. Philippine was intrigued. In a letter to St. Madeleine Sophie Barat, founder of the Society of the Sacred Heart, she wrote that "Cuba was an earthly paradise."
Inspired by the anniversary, and a chapter in Southward Ho, a book that tells the story of the Society of the Sacred Heart's mission work in the Caribbean, President Ann Marie Krejcarek organized the trip as an opportunity to understand and experience the Cuban culture at a unique time in history, while also retracing the steps of Sacred Heart in the country.
Starting in storied Old Havana and then moving to the countryside, the trip was about interacting with the people and learning about the history, culture and day-to-day lives of Cubans.
In Sancti Spiritus, one of the oldest Cuban European settlements, the group delivered much needed supplies to Religious of the Sacred Heart sisters, and heard stories of their Catholic work in the community. "They visit and care for the elderly and those in prison," Dr. Krejcarek explains, "gaining entry by way of claiming to be their godmothers — most appropriate from many perspectives."
Two brothers — Julian and Guillermo Domenech — whose paths and experiences with the revolution took them in two very different directions, joined the trip as guest docents. Julian shared his story of fleeing Cuba in the 1960s and living in exile in the U.S., while Guillermo worked his way up to a prominent position in the Castro government.
"This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for us all and helped us gain perspective and first-hand knowledge of a unique and dynamic country," Dr. Krejcarek says. "Now that adults have been on this trip first, our hope is to design how it might serve as an international student experience."