Southwestern Indiana's Catholic Community Newspaper

The Melting Pot

By Mary Ann Hughes
Mary Ann Hughes

When I was growing up, my dad taught pharmacology at the IU Medical School in Indianapolis. He grew up in a small mining town in Pennsylvania, which was filled with Polish and Irish Americans. He fell in love with Indianapolis because it was what he called a “melting pot,” filled with people of every nationality. The medical school was even more so, with professors from all over the world.

I spent my high school years at Our Lady of Grace Academy. It was a place filled with students with last names like Moriarity and Callahan, Uhl and Fritz.

That dynamic changed one morning when we were introduced to new students, beautiful young women with the prettiest dark hair and the loveliest brown eyes, bearing first names such as Ines, Veronica and Orelia.

It was in the mid-1960s, and they were part of a group of Cubans who had fled from that Communist country. Thanks to the efforts of Catholic Charities, they were placed in foster homes, orphanages and boarding schools all over the United States. The Benedictine Sisters at Our Lady of Grace had graciously welcomed them to live with us at the monastery.

They were as diverse as any other group of teenagers. Susana was a firecracker — in the very best way. Some were quiet; some were tall; some were petite. I remember one girl who always had a smile on her sweet face.

Spanish was their native language, and I’m sure it was difficult for them to be thrown into English-only classrooms and expected to keep up.

I was a typically self-absorbed teenager, and I presumed they were all settling nicely into their new lives in Indiana. Occasionally, I would spot a group of them down a hall, huddled together and crying, but I am embarrassed to say that I didn’t give it much thought.

Today, I’m in my late 60s, and I think with horror at how much they must have suffered from being separated from their families. I believe that it took decades before some of them were able to be reunited.

It’s funny how memories come flooding back to you after so many years. I recently saw one of their names on Facebook. That’s when I starting thinking about those brave young girls and their parents who lovingly sent them as unaccompanied minors from Cuba to Florida. What courage that must have taken.

I know that my dad felt enriched by the opportunity to work with professors from all over the world. And I know that I was blessed by getting to know these young women.