Sunday, December 8, 2013

Amid Hurricanes

Mother Maria Grau, OP in 1935 gives the details of the hurricane of 1928 in which the Sisters valiantly tried to save the convent from the effects of a cyclone that struck St. Rose.  Mother Concordia wrote in her circular letter, “The storm was one of unusual magnitude, and from about nine o’clock a.m. it kept on increasing in violence until two p.m. when the wind reached a velocity of 120 miles an hour.”  

The Sisters watched as neighboring buildings flew through the air, partitions gave way, and sheets of zinc crashed around them with terrifying force killing three people in the vicinity.  The storm reached its peak at 2 p.m. when the roof of their convent, a twenty foot wide sheet of zinc gave a final crash and sailed away rolling over the neighbor’s house before landing in the street below.  This same scenario repeated all over village and indeed throughout the island.  Hundreds were put out of work, when one of the largest employers, the local tobacco factory burned to the ground, and food, water and electricity were scarce.  Sisters took economic measures and petitioned for donations from the Red Cross to help the poor and rebuild.      

From 1910-1960 Dominican Sisters of Amityville were regularly assigned to the mission in Puerto Rico in groups of 2-6 at a time.  Before World War II over one hundred Sisters had served in the Island mission.  Native vocations, trained in the United States made up a little less than half of the work force sent to Puerto Rico to serve in private schools and reach out to the poor. Many Sisters of German ancestry were drawn to missionary work.    

Sister Adalbert Krieg entered the Congregation in 1911.  A practical-minded woman with a lively sense of humor, Sister Adalbert taught shorthand and typing and volunteered as early as 1915 to go to the mission in Puerto Rico.  In 1945 she was sent to Yauco where she served for 5 years, followed by a year at Naraño and another at Bayamón.  Soon her reputation as a teacher spread and the President of the Catholic University in Ponce asked her to join the faculty.  She taught English at the University and the University sent her to New York University to earn an MBA.  Her dissertation focused on the “The Struggle of Puerto Rico for Efficient Industrial Progress” Sister Adalbert served on the faculty at the University in Ponce for 13 years and hundreds of young men and women got their start in business through their studies with Sister Adalbert.   The business program grew from its humble beginnings with just a dozen part-time students to over 3,000 day students and 500 in night school students by 1980.  Sister Adalbert never lost her love for the poor and continued to serve in the campos during her time at the university.  “Every day after school, after three o’clock, we went down in the jeep – way down in the ditches and we gave instructions to the poor children and also poor adults, and began a school of typing and shorthand in the university after school.  Now many of the people don’t have to work in San Juan. They can work in Narañito and other places because they have knowledge of typing.”   

Sister was touched by the devotion of the people to Our Lady.  “The rosary is the main prayer of the good Puerto Ricans.  The first Saturday of each month they carry the Fatima statue around the streets at five o’clock in the morning and the people come from the hills and everywhere and they sing the Hail Mary.  They sing the whole rosary.  So from five o’clock in the morning until eight o’clock they sing the rosary going from street to street.”