MIAMI | In June 1961, five Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul arrived in Miami from Cuba. A photograph of the sisters captured in The Voice, the diocesan newspaper at the time, showed them in their blue habits and iconic white cornets, suitcases and bags in hand, walking through airport crowds.
Communist dictator Fidel Castro’s regime had just embarked on an antireligious campaign, closing Catholic schools and forcing priests and religious to leave, among them Havana’s auxiliary bishop.
The Daughters of Charity stopped in Miami briefly, on their way to a new mission in Puerto Rico.
But as more Cubans fled to South Florida, it became clear to Miami’s first archbishop, Coleman Carroll, that the diocese needed help ministering to the growing number of Spanish-speaking immigrants — be they Catholic or not. He reached out to the Daughters of Charity who had fled Cuba 10 years earlier, and asked their mother superior, Sister Cristina Chiron, to establish a mission in South Florida.
On Aug. 14, 1971, five sisters arrived, this time to stay. The day after, on the feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, they were officially welcomed to the archdiocese at the chapel of the Sisters of the Assumption, today known as St. Jude Melkite Church on Brickell Avenue. The Mass was celebrated by Msgr. Bryan O. Walsh, the priest behind the Pedro Pan children’s exodus from Cuba, and Father Agustin Roman, a Cuban exile himself and future auxiliary bishop of Miami.
Fifty years later, on Aug. 14, 2021, the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul gathered at St. Mary Cathedral to celebrate five decades of service in the Archdiocese of Miami. Sisters visiting from Cuba and Puerto Rico, as well as families, friends, and supporters took part in the Mass, celebrated by Archbishop Thomas Wenski and several priests.
The past five decades have not been easy for the Daughters of Charity. But as Sister Eva Perez Puelles told the Florida Catholic, “We have been able to develop our mission with the help of the Lord, trusting in his divine providence, always attentive to the needs of his children, giving glory and thanks.”
Archbishop Wenski pointed out how the mission of the sisters became one of accompanying their exiled Cuban brothers and sisters. “Those first sisters, led at first by our beloved and faithful Sister Hilda Alonso, knew firsthand the pain of their people,” he said.
Sister Hilda, now 100, and the other sisters worked with Cuban refugees at Centro Hispano Catolico and Gesu Parish in downtown Miami, where they taught catechesis, provided childcare, helped with the medical dispensary, and visited families in the surrounding neighborhoods. In 1972, Sister Hilda was named Caribbean provincial for the Daughters of Charity and returned to Puerto Rico. She settled back in Miami in 1981.
In the meantime, the work of the sisters in South Florida continued, spreading to St. John Bosco Parish in the area known as Little Havana. In 1972, the future Bishop Roman invited them to work at the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity, also known as “La Ermita.” They became guardians of the statuette of Cuba’s patroness — a replica of the original housed in Cuba — and the shrine, where today they still welcome visitors, offer religious education, and encourage prayer and a deeper devotion to Mary.
“There, at the feet of the Virgin, many have been welcomed, have found welfare and spiritual assistance, and formation in the faith,” said Archbishop Wenski.
The sisters also work at their Miami convent, where they collect food and other donated items to distribute locally to those in need, as well as to pack and ship to Cuba and Haiti.
Aside from prayer and support from the community, Sister Eva said, the congregation needs vocations, so that future Daughters of Charity “can continue on the road already started and already traveled.”
Sister Ediltrudis Acevedo, the Caribbean provincial of the Daughters of Charity, said she prays for sisters, present and future, “to be inventive and creative in this moment of history that we are living, to continue collaborating in the work that God has entrusted to us, and tending to the kingdom in service to the poorest.”
In terms of digital creativity, the sisters are evangelizing on social media — Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube — by letting others know about their works and ministry.
“In every moment, in every epoch, the Lord presents the needs,” said Sister Eva. The charism of the Daughters of Charity is to “remain up to date with the needs of the world.”
In 2020, the sisters launched a new service project, Casa Maria del Caminante, to accompany anyone on their spiritual journey. They also established a local branch of the Ladies of Charity, a lay community originally founded by St. Vincent de Paul in 1617.
Whether they help the poor, elderly, children, youths, the sick or immigrants in Miami, Cuba, Haiti, or the other 91 countries where they serve, Sister Eva said, “We are available.”
FIND OUT MORE
• The Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul can found on Facebook, at Hijas de la Caridad - Miami, FL (https://www.facebook.com/Hijas-de-la-Caridad-Miami-FL-266471672054/).
• Casa María del Caminante is located at 6321 Tamiami Canal Road, Miami, FL 33126. The website is www.casamariadelcaminante.org.
• Call 305-266-6485 for more information.