A Journey To Peru
This is a story of a missionary, a mission, a family, and a community of learners.
Sister Marie Esterre was a devoted nun of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in St Paul, Minnesota. In the late 1960s, she became the Mother Superior of the order’s congregation in Arequipa, Peru. Sr. Marie also was my aunt. During a Christmas visit to our family in the States, she and Frank Wood, my father, collaborated with St. Norbert College to create a program for St. Norbert students to teach and study at La Universidad de Santa Maria in Arequipa while living with Peruvian families. Dad led seven students to Arequipa in the program’s first year in 1970, accompanied by our entire family of eight children. Tom and Luci Phelan guided the students in 1971, and Richard and Mechtilde Calnin helmed the program in 1972.
Nowadays “study abroad” programs are an established feature in higher education; back then, they were a rarity, and St. Norbert was charting a course through a seldom-traveled wilderness. For many of the students, the journey to Peru marked their first exposure to a different culture, leaving them forever changed and connected to people, places, and history.
The instability of the Peruvian economy under the dictatorship of Juan Velasco Alvarado posed difficulties that ultimately became insurmountable. At one point in 1971, the program participants were trapped in Peru after Aerolíneas Peruanas, the airline they were counting on to bring them home, went bankrupt. Ultimately the third year was also the last year because of the increasingly volatile political climate. Nevertheless, it was a remarkable experiment that paved the way for St. Norbert College’s international study programs today.
Visiting a foreign culture with both differences and shared virtues can profoundly impact individuals. This weekend, a Peruvian Reunion at St Norbert College honors Professors Wood, Phelan, and Calnin and their spouses for blazing the trail for future learners with the installation of ceremonial benches in a prominent location on campus. This fitting memorial will remind all who participated to cherish those special moments from long ago.
PATRICK J. WOOD