March 23, 2015
By Mike Killeen
Father Wilfred Theisen, OSB, can cross Cuba off his bucket list.
Theisen and three others traveled in early March to Havana to check out life on the Caribbean island.
He was accompanied on the trip by Saint John's University athletic director Tom Stock; SJU sophomore Jake Stock, Tom's son; and Ann Marie Stock, professor of Hispanic studies and film studies at the College of William & Mary and Tom's older sister.
They had a seasoned tour guide in Ann Marie Stock, who has visited Cuba over 60 times for academic research on Cuban cinema.
"On two different occasions, she has had lunches with (former Cuban Prime Minister and President) Fidel Castro," Tom Stock said. "She knows Havana the way I know St. Joseph, or the SJU campus."
The group visited a number of churches in the Havana area. Theisen was able to concelebrate Mass with members of the Epiphany of the Lord Priory, a community from the St. Ottilien Abbey in Germany.
"Catholicism is pretty much alive down there," Theisen said. "We saw quite a number of Catholic churches. They were all large churches and were well maintained. They celebrated Mass every day and also on weekends."
Also in abundance were old cars.
"1953 Chevys are everywhere," Tom Stock said. "It really was like turning the clock back 50 years, in terms of all those old cars. Some were beautiful, and some are just dilapidated as can be."
Theisen said he has always been "curious" about life and culture in countries that have experienced revolutions and had dictators in power.
"There seems to be such conflicting views of life in these countries," Theisen said.
Both Theisen and Tom Stock said the Cubans they talked to appeared happy. They were both impressed with the government offering free medical and dental care, free education and free food and milk (to a certain age).
"I think the poor in Cuba are better off than in any other Latin American country," Theisen said.
Jake Stock, who speaks Spanish, befriended a university student and his parents. The student told Jake Stock and the group that Cuba has no future, and felt the economy was dead. His parents, who manage a floor of a high-rise apartment building in Cuba and rent apartments to tourists, giving them additional income, didn't agree.
"He said that Cuba has had the same leadership basically for 50 years," Tom Stock said. "He said they need some new thoughts and some new ways of thinking, and yet his parents would not agree with him. His parents really like socialism, and like the system and the lifestyle that they've had. They wouldn't trade that for anything."
Theisen, who taught physics for 50 years at CSB and SJU, said he has several more items on his bucket list. "There's some writing I'd like to do," Theisen said.