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Celebrating La Virgen

Thursday, Dec. 22, 2011


Santa Clara and the Sacred Heart Parish commemorate the vision of Our Lady of Guadalupe with a 15-year tradition—and a four-year scholarship.


Photo by Charles Barry

The sounding of the caracol (conch) echoed through Mission Santa Clara de Asís on December 4. Then came 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 year marks the 15th annual presentation of La Virgen in the Mission Church. The event is a collaboration of the University and Sacred Heart Parish. Performed in the Flor y Canto (Flower and Song) Nahuatl tradition, the celebration featured the Aztec dance group Danza Yoloxochitl with narration, colorful cultural costumes, and music: drums and guitars, violins and flute.

Building bridges

Ana Maria Pineda, RSM, an associate professor of religious studies at SCU, helps organize the public presentation each year. She arrived at Santa Clara University in 1997 to teach Hispanic Spirituality: Guadalupe—the country’s only course dedicated to studying La Virgen and her significance in history, popular religion, and current events—including immigration issues—as well as the daily lives of those who seek her comfort. La Virgen Del Tepeyac offers a two-way bridge to the underserved communities beyond SCU, venerating an icon central to many Latinos 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. At the parish, she participated in El Teatro Corazón, made up of parish members. The parish had already been performing the Juan Diego account for nearly two decades. Castañeda-Liles helped persuade SCU’s Campus Ministry that the reenactment is a form of popular religious prayer, not simply theatre, and that it would be fitting to host the celebration in the Mission. Parish members joined with Pineda’s students with 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 important way: 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 the community and generations.

In addition to the many who come to the celebration each year, Pineda has had more than 500 students in her Hispanic Spirituality course. The reenactment helps non-Latino students and those of other faiths come to a greater appreciation of culture and religious traditions beyond their own, she says. And it is an important part of reflecting on their own religious beliefs and how education has brought them opportunities they wouldn’t have otherwise. As La Virgen’s apparitions to Juan Diego symbolize her embrace of all, so does the presentation symbolize SCU’s connection with the community beyond its campus.

Students, scholars, and alumni

Preceding the celebration on Dec. 4 was another tradition: the awarding of the San Juan Diego Scholarship. 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 Guiterrez, who plans to enter SCU in 2012 as a freshman. Thirteen students have received the scholarship over the years, including some who were the first in their families to attend college.

It was the celebration itself that inspired the scholarship: Touched by the first performance in the Mission Church in 1997, Stephen Privett, S.J., then provost and vice president for academic affairs at SCU and now president of the University of San Francisco, awarded two scholarships to Sacred Heart students. The scholarship was later formally established by President Paul Locatelli, S.J. ’60.

—Monique Marie DeJong ’06


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