The sounding of the caracol (conch) echoes through Mission Santa Clara de Asís. Then come drums, singing, and ancient Aztec step dancing. The joyous occasion: La Virgen Del Tepeyac, celebrating the miraculous apparitions of La Virgen de Guadalupe to Juan Diego, a Christian Indian, on the Tepeyac hill in Mexico City in 1531.
This December marked the 15th annual presentation of La Virgen in the Mission Church. The event is a collaboration of the University and Sacred Heart Parish in San Jose. Performed in the flor y canto(flower and song) Nahuatl tradition, the celebration combines narration, costumes, and music.
La Virgen del Tepeyac offers a two-way bridge to the underserved communities beyond SCU, says Ana Maria Pineda, RSM, an associate professor of religious studies who teaches a course on la Virgen. The celebration venerates an icon central to many Latino’s lives and identities, offering dignity, unity, strength, and hope.
While a student, María del Socorro Castañeda-Liles ’98 was a member of Sacred Heart Parish. Her devotion to la Virgen inspired her to create a partnership between SCU and Sacred Heart. Parish members joined Pineda’s students the help of Pia Moriarty, then director of Eastside Project (known today as Arrupe Partnerships for Community-based Learning), for the first celebration of la Virgen in the Mission Church in 1997. Since then, Castañeda-Liles has continued her involvement with SCU in another role: She is an assistant professor of religious studies.
Santa Clara alumni are also strong supporters of the event. José A. Cabrales ’00, who serves as president of the Chicano/Latino Alumni Chapter, underscores that the celebration has become an important SCU tradition, binding community and generations.
Preceding the celebration this past December was another tradition: the awarding of the Juan Diego Scholarship. The annual need-based scholarship covers four years of tuition. It recognizes Sacred Heart students who are committed to the parish, youth leadership, and the Latino community. This year the scholarship was presented to Araceli Gutierrez ’15, who entered SCU in fall 2011. Fourteen students have received the scholarship over the years, including some who were the first in their families to attend college.