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Lucky Exodus View Comments
By Alicia von Stamwitz

OUR FAMILY WAS LUCKY. Or at least that’s what my parents told me, over and over again.

“We got out of Cuba just in time.”

First my mother, with my two siblings and me, in 1960. Then my father, shortly before the revolutionaries appropriated the family business. My grandmother waited the longest, emigrating the following summer. She left her husband behind, forever as it turned out. He stayed in Havana to take care of a younger brother who had been imprisoned by Fidel Castro’s regime for “collaborating with the CIA.”

After I married and had children of my own, I began dreaming of returning to Cuba. My situation was complicated, though. First, because I am a U.S. citizen now. Second, because both sides of our family had been part of the hated bourgeois before the Cuban revolution and had openly opposed Castro.

I called my uncle in Washington, D.C., for advice. He’d been the mayor of Havana and ambassador to the United States under former president Ramón Grau. He discouraged me from going, warning that it would not be safe for any member of our family to return. My father agreed. He knew Fidel well—he had crossed paths with him every day in the hallways of their private Jesuit high school.

“He was a bully then,” he said, his face darkening, “and he is a paranoid bully now. You might get in, but you might not get out.”

Still, one afternoon, he drew a map of Havana with an engineer’s precision and carefully marked a half-dozen places of interest in red pencil: the family business, our home in Havana, my grandparents’ houses.

My maternal grandmother lived with us in New Jersey after she emigrated. One summer morning, she patted a spot beside her and told me a secret. Just before she fled Cuba, she whispered conspiratorially, she had hired a master carpenter to hide a few precious belongings under the staircase of her home—a box of photographs, a bundle of letters, family heirlooms nestled in velvet and gold brocade drawstring pouches.

Si regresas a La Habana,” my grandmother concluded, squeezing my hands too tightly. “If you make it back to Havana . . . promise me, Ali, that you will go to my house and get my things.”

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Alicia von Stamwitz was born Alicia Ramirez de Arellano. She lives in St. Louis, where she is an independent consultant and freelance author.


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Madeleine Sophie Barat: The legacy of Madeleine Sophie Barat can be found in the more than 100 schools operated by her Society of the Sacred Heart, institutions known for the quality of the education made available to the young. 
<p>Sophie herself received an extensive education, thanks to her brother, Louis, 11 years older and her godfather at Baptism. Himself a seminarian, he decided that his younger sister would likewise learn Latin, Greek, history, physics and mathematics—always without interruption and with a minimum of companionship. By age 15, she had received a thorough exposure to the Bible, the teachings of the Fathers of the Church and theology. Despite the oppressive regime Louis imposed, young Sophie thrived and developed a genuine love of learning. </p><p>Meanwhile, this was the time of the French Revolution and of the suppression of Christian schools. The education of the young, particularly young girls, was in a troubled state. At the same time, Sophie, who had concluded that she was called to the religious life, was persuaded to begin her life as a nun and as a teacher. She founded the Society of the Sacred Heart, which would focus on schools for the poor as well as boarding schools for young women of means; today, co-ed Sacred Heart schools can be found as well as schools exclusively for boys. </p><p>In 1826, her Society of the Sacred Heart received formal papal approval. By then she had served as superior at a number of convents. In 1865, she was stricken with paralysis; she died that year on the feast of the Ascension. </p><p>Madeleine Sophie Barat was canonized in 1925.</p> American Catholic Blog When you go to Jesus, you’re not going to a God who only knows heaven; instead, you’re placing your hurting heart into pierced hands that understand both the pain of suffering and the glory of redemption.

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