When three hurricanes impacted four schools in the USA Central and Southern Province, many people responded with gifts and prayers. Strangers reached out with generosity and compassion, and school communities banded together, looking out for one another. The Jesuit schools in Houston and Tampa are doing well, though some families are still displaced. Colegio San Ignacio in San Juan, Puerto Rico, is striving for normalcy in abnormal conditions as Puerto Rico struggles to recover.
The Jesuit schools and parish in San Juan were hit hard by Hurricane Maria but reopened within two weeks, showing remarkable resilience as they depended on generators and bottled or filtered water. They relied on generators for nearly four months. After 128 days, 68% of Puerto Rico (about 1 million people) had their power restored, including the Jesuit schools, parish and community. However, more than 450,000 remain without power, especially in rural areas.
This province received more than 600 gifts, totaling nearly $540,000, to aid the people of Puerto Rico. The Jesuits in Puerto Rico have used those funds to make structural repairs, replace equipment and purchase and maintain generators. Perhaps more importantly, the gifts helped provide financial assistance to faculty, staff and others who needed help. Just clearing up the debris around the school campus cost more than $300,000.
In Houston, both Cristo Rey Jesuit College Preparatory School and Strake Jesuit College Preparatory School were the beneficiaries of a tide of goodwill. Thanks to donations, Strake Jesuit and Cristo Rey provided clothing, transportation, temporary housing, furniture, appliances and other necessities to families in need.
In addition to individuals, more than 50 public and private schools and colleges/universities from across the country reached out to Cristo Rey to offer support, allowing the school to help more than 60 students, alumni, faculty, staff and their families.
Strake Jesuit received donations totaling $352,105, which it used to fund a financial aid program. Fifty-one Strake Jesuit students remain displaced from their homes.
In all three communities – Houston, Tampa and Puerto Rico – the grace and generosity of the students, faculty, staff and families has been remarkable. Even those whose homes were damaged or destroyed have reached out to help others. Some students distributed water, groceries and cleaning supplies, while others offered their labor to muck, tear down and build back up again. Just returning to school to be together was an important step in healing.
De Smet Jesuit High School volunteers repair a roof in Puerto Rico damaged by Hurricane Maria.
The broader Jesuit family has demonstrated what community is meant to be. Many of the gifts to help the people of Puerto Rico came from donors in Houston. Strake Jesuit families responded early in the Puerto Rican crisis by sending water purifiers to Colegio San Ignacio. Students from De Smet Jesuit High School (St. Louis) flew to Puerto Rico in November to clean out houses, repair roofs, tutor kids and plant mangroves. Seniors at St. Louis University High School spent three weeks in January restoring sports facilities for children and removing debris from roofless homes. Belen Jesuit in Miami also sent students, and more schools have trips planned.
Throughout these challenging months, the Jesuit school communities have felt a strengthening bond with the Jesuit family at large, thanks to intentional acts of solidarity. In Puerto Rico in particular, the generosity of many has enabled the Jesuits to accompany those who have suffered. They will continue to support the recovery efforts with an even greater commitment to share the gifts of the Jesuit mission.
The Ignatian Spirituality Program of Denver offers Ignatian group retreats, individual spiritual direction, the Spiritual Exercises in Everyday Life, and trains spiritual directors and guides of the Spiritual Exercises.