Our Home, Puerto Rico

November 16, 2017

By Sister Ana Rosa de la Cruz and Sister Ana Maria Cases

Sister Ana Rosa and Sister Ana Maria were born in Puerto Rico and ministered there for many years. Now living in Pittsburgh, they reflect on the history of Mercy presence in Puerto Rico and share some of the hardships facing their island home in the wake of two devastating hurricanes.

A photograph of the late Sister Olga Skaleski walks with a young girl by the ocean in Puerto Rico.

The late Sister Olga Skaleski walks with a young girl by the ocean in Puerto Rico.

The Sisters of Mercy from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, have had a very close relationship to the island of Puerto Rico since 1941, when the bishop of San Juan, Bishop James Davis, invited the sisters to staff Academia Católica, a school for grades 1-12. Academia Católica—located in Old San Juan, the capital city of Puerto Rico—was administered by the Capuchin priests from St. Augustine Seminary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The sisters arrived there in August 1941 to start the new academic year in September. Shortly after, they collaborated with the priests in the religious instruction of children in La Perla, a slum built outside the city’s ancient walls. Sometime later, they also gave religious instruction to the children of army men stationed at Fort Brooke in San Juan. The sisters remained there until 1964 when the school had to close because the structure had major problems due to the disintegration caused by the weather and the proximity of the ocean.

Before the second semester of 1963-64 school year was over, Cardinal Luis Aponte Martínez, then Archbishop of San Juan, had already approached the major superior, Mother Margaret Mary, to assign sisters to a school in Hato Rey, in the modern section of the city. Colegio La Merced was owned by the Mercedarian priests from Spain. Because it was a school dedicated to Our Lady of Mercy and under the direction of Mercedarian priests, Mother Margaret Mary accepted. The sisters remained there until 1971.  

From 1971 to 2016, we—both native Puerto Ricans and alumnae of Academia Católica, remained on the island ministering in different Catholic schools of the archdiocese. On the anniversary of the 75th year of Mercy presence in Puerto Rico, we returned to the Motherhouse in Pittsburgh due to age and health issues.

After the Hurricanes

As everyone knows, the island recently suffered a complete devastation due to the passing of two hurricanes, Irma and María. The critical situation has been aggravated by additional difficulties. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been extremely slow in distributing tents to the families who lived in the 250,000 homes that lost their roofs, doors and windows. The number of helicopters brought to distribute supplies are very few for such a great need. These are essential as many of the roads leading to small towns, especially in the mountains, are inaccessible. The pick-up and clean-up of rubbish and debris has been very slow even though FEMA is paying the cost. The mayors are chiefly responsible for this task. The local National Guard was very slow in responding the first few days after the hurricane. There hasn’t been proper coordination between the federal and local agencies. Apparently the AEE, the local government energy agency, has granted very expensive contracts to outside companies to deal with the energy crisis. There has been a very bad distribution of water and food. Hundreds of thousands have received very little or no help.

The Sisters of Mercy community has responded very generously to this crisis by sending contributions to the Capuchin priests in San Juane. These priests have missions all over the island, especially in the mountains and the south where it is very difficult to distribute food, water and other supplies. McAuley Ministries has also sent a significant contribution.

We are very touched and grateful to the community for their loving response and continuous prayers for our beloved island.

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  1. Susan Welsh

    How painful for Sisters Ana Rosa and Ana Maria to be so far from “home” as this disaster continues to unfold. We support them and the people of Puerto Rico in this on-going effort to alleviate the suffering.