Fifty years ago, on August 13, 1964, I left my homeland and family to spend the next ten years in Puerto Rico. No, I did not know Spanish nor was I prepared for a new culture. It seemed more important to those in charge that I get as close to finishing my degree in English as possible so I could literally “be the English department in the new high school.” Finishing my degree was more important than learning Spanish because in order for the new high school, Colegio San Benito, to be accredited, a credentialed person had to chair each department. However, I must say that in spite of my inability to speak Spanish, I was “warmly” welcomed into a most beautiful land with so many beautiful people.
Those first weeks were totally surreal. I remember that so much felt so exotic and I had to keep telling myself that I was not in a movie … this was real. The coconut trees, the banana trees, the palm trees – the scenery that was totally breath-taking along with the mountains, and the song of the coqui throughout the night -- all were real. Yes, so were the termites that lived in the same house as I did. Sleeping under a canopy of mosquito netting was new but it didn’t take me long to be mighty grateful for it. And wonderful Puerto Rican foods . . . I loved them all and I loved the students who struggled trying to understand the classes I taught in English . . . but not half as much as I struggled to grasp the Spanish because all I had had was two classes in which Sister Marianne taught me the "Dios te salve Maria" (the Hail Mary). Yes, ten years later, when I was asked to return to Minnesota, I kept the island green for six months watering it with my tears. To leave was infinitely more difficult than to go there – and unbeknown to many, I grieved the loss of so much and so many for a long time after I was back home!
Not all was easy, but today -- uppermost in my mind and heart is profound gratitude that this surreal thing really happened. Thank you, Mother Henrita Osendorf, who was prioress at the time, (and God) for having the courage and faith to not only send me to a foreign land but to entrust me with leadership during my 33rd year of life so unprepared. And thank you also, all of you who became part of my life during those grace-filled ten years . . . from 1964-1974. You still are remembered in my prayers every night before I go to bed. Lastly, thank you, Dad and Mom, for your response to what Mother Henrita was asking. Dad, I will always remember your words that night when Janice asked you and mom how you felt about my going to Puerto Rico. You, the beautiful man of faith you always were, responded with these words: “Do you think that if this is what God wants, that mom or I would stand in the way?” And fifty years later, the tears of gratitude for so much expressed and not expressed are running down my cheeks as I share this part of my life that continues to shape who I am.
Lois Wedl, OSB
The photograph shows S. Lois (center in tropical white habit) being seen off at Minneapolis/St Paul airport by her sister, S. Janice (r), and cousin , S. Diego (Liz Brannan)