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December 16, 2017
To celebrate Teresa of Avila, these Cuban nuns rented their own hall
Tasende theater in Camagüey, which was seized by the Cuban government from the Teresian Sisters in 1961. Credit: Armando Garcia.
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.- On May 1, 1961 Fidel Castro ordered the seizure of all private schools in Cuba and the expulsion of all priests and religious. Among those affected were the Teresian Sisters of Enrique de Ossó, who lost their school in Camagüey and its assembly hall, today converted into the Tasende theater.

To celebrate the fifth centenary of the birth of St. Teresa of Avila, the nuns were obliged to rent the hall, once their own property, as well as bring along their own sound equipment.

“The government owns that theater now, so in order to use it the Teresian sisters  rented it (from the government) … and having to bring their sound system. This is sad because that place was the property of the nuns” a source who was at the October 24 event told CNA.

Moreover, the community had to pay for the rental not in Cuban pesos, but “convertible pesos.” Convertible pesos are typically used in Cuba for luxury goods and goods typically bought by tourists. Staples are payed for in Cuban pesos, as the convertible peso is worth 25 times as much, and is pegged at the value of one United States dollar.

The nuns' expensive rental not only celebrated the birth of St. Teresa of Avila, but the centennial of their presence in Cuba, as well.

The celebration included a Mass said by Archbishop Juan García Rodriguez of Camagüey; Bishop Emilio Aranguren Echeverria of Holguín concelebrated, along with priests of the Camagüey archdiocese. The event culminated with a Teresian gala in the old assembly hall of the Teresian School, now the Tasende theater.

The source who spoke with CNA said many former students of the Teresian Sisters were at the commemorative event, who recalled “their school with pride,” yet were at the same time saddened “to see the building abandoned and run down with the passage of time. A lady who was a former student remembered the times when she was a girl and participated in school activities in that theater. You could see her teary eyes as she recalled and talked about how her school and theater used to be, and are now.”

Founded in Spain in 1876 by Saint Enrique de Ossó, the congregation spread to Cuba in 1914, establishing houses in Camagüey, Santa Clara, Guantánamo, Ciego de Ávila, Cienfuegos, and Havana.

When Castro took power in 1959, many families opted to leave the country to avoid being the victims of communism. “(The sisters)  could see the number of enrollments dropping, and the malaise and distress they were going through made any type of teaching activity almost impossible,” the source related.

“The sisters had to leave the country against their will. The schools were taken over by the government. The sisters left for Spain, Mexico, Venezuela and Colombia. They all went with the hope of one day returning. The authorities made countless nuns withdraw that year … this is how they seized Church property and took over teaching in the schools,” the source added.

After almost three decades, the congregation  returned to Cuba in 1989 at the request of Bishop Adolfo Rodriguez Herrera of Camagüey, who died in 2003 and whose cause for beatification is now open. However, the religious “still didn't have schools or convents, because they had already lost everything.”

That year they founded their mission in Camagüey. In 1993 it was extended to Villa Clara, and in 1997 a novitiate was opened in Havana. There are currently eleven sisters of the order in Cuba.

“The mission they are now carrying out, which comes from their own charism as teachers, consists in pastoral care for the Christian communities, catechesis  for children, young people and adults, youth group activities, and projects that contribute to human dignity, especially for women, children, and the elderly,” the source explained.

The source recalled that “Saint Teresa of Avila tells us: 'If we don't know what we are receiving we will not awaken to love.' From these words of hers we feel moved to give thanks to God for the gift we have received and the selfless lives of so many sisters that made possible the spread of love for Jesus in Cuba. We also thank the former students and the whole Teresian family here on the island for making the Teresian charism incarnate in our reality.”

To that effect, the provincial coordinator, Sister Thelma Martínez, along with the other sisters of the society, “thanked and recognized the former Teresian students for keeping alive the Teresian charism during these 100 years in Cuba.”