By the end of 1939, Puerto Rico had endured 10 years of unstable political leadership, a devastating economic depression and a vicious hurricane that left $40 million in damages and 275 dead. Looking back on the decade, one Marianist historian questioned: “Were the Marianists crazy to come to Puerto Rico in the 1930s?”
Crazy or not, it was the fervent request of devout Catholics and a plea from the Bishop Edwin Byrne, first bishop of the Diocese of San Juan, that brought Marianist educators to the island to run two schools: Colegio Ponceño de Varones (1930) and Colegio San José in San Juan (1938). By August 1938, under the leadership of the late Marianist Father Joseph Tetzlaff, the Marianists ran Catholic schools in the two largest cities in Puerto Rico.
It wasn’t until the 1950s, however, that the Marianists began visiting the central mountain villages of Orocovis, Ciales and Villalba and became acquainted with the jibaros – the peasants of the island.
The late Marianist Brother Joseph Jansen, who served in Puerto Rico for more than 27 years, documented these early encounters with the jibaros. He wrote: “… it became very obvious that the Marianists affectionately carried the mountain people in their hearts, and the mountain folk dearly carried the Marianists in their hearts.”
These seeds and the persistent work of the Marianists bore fruit in the formation of a mountain parish now known as Our Lady of Divine Providence.
In 2005, when Marianist Fathers Vincent Plassenthal and Raymond Middendorf retired, the Marianists turned over responsibility for the parish to the Diocese of Ponce.
Although the Marianists are no longer in charge of the school in Ponce, they continue their work at Colegio San José and in the mountains through summer programs, retreats and mission outreach. ###
“The Marianists in Puerto Rico” first appeared in ALIVE magazine, Vol. 2, No. 3, Winter 2005.