UP Catholic 09 01 2017 E Edition Page 10

10 September 1, 2017 THE U.P. CATHOLIC VOCATING www.upcatholic.org Immigrant becomes minister to immigrants BY JOHN FEE THE U.P. CATHOLIC In October 1961, Ocatvio Cisneros became one of the 14,000 Operation Pedro Pan unac- companied minors sent from Cuba to the Unit- ed States to escape government oppression. The journey would take him from Havana, to Camp Metacombe in the Florida Keys, to the Upper Peninsula and eventually to Brooklyn as an auxiliary bishop. Fidel Castro had declared himself a Marx- ist-Leninist in the early 1960s and began taking over the schools. Roberto Cisneros and Olga Lezcano, both now deceased, wanted a better education for their 16-year-old son who until then had been taught by the Piarist Fathers. Like many parents, they ex- pected to send their child to school in the U.S. until things settled down in Cuba. I was a teenager, I was 16, for me it was a thrill to leave home like every kid and to be able to come to the United States, another country, and to study, recalled Bishop Cisneros Its later on that you begin to become nostalgic and lonesome and then to realize what it means to leave home. And that process that we went through as we left Miami, went into Marquette and then little-by-little we began to understand we were here to stay. That was the difficult part. Through Operation Pedro Pan, a joint ef- fort of the U.S. government and the Catholic Church in the U.S., many of the youth went to live with relatives already residing in the U.S., or to foster homes. Other youth, like Cisneros, were placed in orphanages until foster homes could be found. The Sisters of St. Agnes, who ran Marquettes Holy Family Orphanage until the Sisters of St. Paul de Chartres came in 1963, fixed up the top loor as a new home for boy refugees. It includ- ed an apartment for a Catholic Social Services social worker and his wife to give the boys a semblance of family. Bishop Cisneros called it a very good idea and a wonderful experience because the wife was pregnant and the baby was born there. The refugees were divided between Bishop Baraga High School in Marquette and St. Paul High School in Negaunee. Cisneros and anoth- er student were a year ahead academically due to their Cuban schooling and graduated a year early from St. Paul. The summer of 62, the two went to Northern Michigan University in Marquette to study English. Bishop Cisneros said his classmates and the town welcomed the newcomers. When we went to school, actually, we were the novelty. We were invited to all the parties, Bishop Cisneros said. People were nice to us. People were welcoming. So, I have very good memo- ries of Marquette. It was difficult emotionally, not physical- ly, because I was well taken care of by the Church, Bishop Cisneros said. But emotion- ally yes, because I always wanted to be with my parents, you know, you become homesick. I never saw my mother again. Msgr. Wilbur Gibbs, director of Catholic So- cial Services in Marquette at the time, became the boys guardian. Describing him as a won- derful, wonderful priest, Bishop Cisneros said Msgr. Gibbs invited him to be an altar server for the first time. Msgr. Gibbs also taught Cisneros to drive at Holy Cross Cemetery in Marquette. I remember him taking me to the police station to get my license. Those are the things your dad would do with you He became a father figure. Msgr. Gibbs also sparked Cisneros vocation to the priesthood. One day he asked me, Have you thought of becoming a priest? I said, Never given it a thought. So, he said to me, Think about it, and Id like to take you to the seminary. If you like it, fine. If you don't like it give me a call and immediately Ill go and pick you up. The future bishop was willing to give it a try, and a local businessman covered his minor seminary expenses. Bishop Cisneros said the sisters bought him a suitcase. He vividly remembers Sister Agnew Rita, who was in charge of the Cuban orphans, and the other sisters taking him to Montgom- ery Ward to buy everything he needed to go to seminary at St. Lawrence (Minor) Seminary in Mount Calvary, Wis. As you can see, I liked it. I didnt call him to take me back, Bishop Cisneros said. Summers were spent in Marquette working at a hotel, in construction and one in Traverse City picking cherries. He remained close to Msgr. Gibbs and the Holy Family Orphanage and continues to keep in touch with many oth- er Cubans who were in Marquette. After three years at St. Lawrence, Cisneros was accepted by the vicar general of Havana, in exile in Miami, to study to be a priest for Cuba. He was sent to Lewiston, N.Y. and then to Washington, D.C. to begin theology studies. But, when Cisneros was to be incardinated into the Diocese of Havana, he received a letter from the vicar general saying he would have to find a U.S. diocese to take him because he might not be able to return to Cuba. Bishop Cisneros recalled, So, there I am in Washington, D.C., going wherever I wanted to. I begin to think, I dont want to go to Miami. Why? Its too hot. Yes, thats the irony of it all. Ive been in Marquette, Ive been in Wiscon- sin, Ive been in the coldest parts of the United t R O d b 1 t m p t Bishop Ocatvio Cisneros SEE CISNEROS, PAGE 11 Be a friend of Jesus. Make a friend. Introduce your friend to Jesus" - Bishop John Doerfler

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