MONSIGNOR BRYAN O. WALSH

Monsignor Bryan O. Walsh was born in Ireland in 1930. He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Augustine, FL, in Baltimore's St. Mary's Seminary in 1954. In 1955,he was appointed Assistant Director of the Diocese's Catholic Welfare Bureau and became its Director in 1958. SHOW MORE

Two years later, in October 1960, as the creeping Cuban Refugee Crisis was about to overwhelm the city of Miami, he foresaw the need to create the Cuban Children's Program. This program would last until 1981 to care for the flow of an increasing number of unaccompanied children.

The following November, he joined Schoolmaster James D. Baker of Havana's Ruston Academy in carrying out the airlift of unaccompanied children that became known as Operation Pedro Pan, a predominantly visa waiver program operated by the Catholic Church and the US Department of State.

The airlift was set up at the request of parents who sought to prevent the communist indoctrination of their sons and daughters. Father Walsh was later joined in April 1961 by Mongo and Polita Grau in this endeavor. The program came to an end with the Cuban Missile Crisis on October 22, 1962. By then,14,048 children had been airlifted, with approximately half being cared for by the Cuban Children's Program in 48 states and territories.

During the 1980s, Monsignor Walsh developed many health services for the elderly, the homeless, and people with aids in the Diocese of Miami. He served as trustee and chairman of the Dade County's Public Health Trust (1971-80), and as member and chairman of Dade County's Community Relations Board (1982-1986), among many other community services.

Fort these and many other communities, national and international services, Monsignor Bryan O. Walsh received recognition from numerous sources. He died of a congenital heart defect and was buried on Christmas Eve, 2001. SHOW LESS

“Our parents made the excruciatingly difficult decision to send us away by ourselves. The fear was that we were going to be indoctrinated into communist dogma. So our parents made the decision to get us out of there and send us away.”

Jose azel, Ph.D

Pedro Pan July 19, 1961, Age13

THIS IS OUR STORY

Over four decades ago, Cuban parents fearing indoctrination and that the Cuban government would take away their parental authority, exercised one of the most fundamental human rights: the right to choose how their children would be educated.

From December 1960 to October 1962, more than fourteen thousand Cuban youths arrived alone in the United States. What is now known as Operation Pedro Pan was the largest recorded exodus of unaccompanied minors in the Western Hemisphere.

The exodus of the Cuban children was virtually unknown for over 30 years. Msgr. Bryan O. Walsh, who is considered the Father of our Exodus, states that the name had only appeared in print in March of 62′ and a Reader’s Digest article in 1988. Through the effort and work of Operation Pedro Pan Group, Inc, the name Operation Pedro Pan became known throughout the US and the world.

Approximately half of the minors were reunited with relatives or friends at the airport. More than half were cared for by the Catholic Welfare Bureau, directed by a young 30-year-old Irish priest, Bryan O. Walsh. The children from the Cuban Refugee Children’s Program were placed in Miami’s temporary shelters and relocated to 30 States. Many children of the Unaccompanied Cuban Children’s program are unaware that they were part of history in the making. Today, we are trying to locate all the children that came alone and were part of this historical exodus. Please help us find the grown children of Pedro Pan!

“One morning a Western Union man riding a bicycle delivered a telegram to me on the front porch of our house.  The telegram required me to report to the Havana Airport at 6:00 am the next morning for a flight to the United States.  The telegram also said that I was allowed to bring only two changes of clothing and one pair of shoes.  I didn't know whether to be afraid or excited, but I know that I was sad because I could not say goodbye to any of my friends or our relatives.  I could not hug my dad and say goodbye to him because he was working at a sugar factory in Santiago de Cuba, and I had to leave my mother all alone in the house.  In a few hours, the entire world as I knew it was going to change forever.”

Mayor carlos mayans, city of wichita

Pedro Pan April 29, 1962, Age13

The History of Operation Pedro Pan

Pedro Pan was a program created by the Catholic Welfare Bureau (Catholic Charities) of Miami in December 1960 at the parents' request in Cuba to provide an opportunity for them to send their children to Miami to avoid Marxist-Leninist indoctrination. After the break-in diplomatic relations on January 3, 1961, the Catholic Welfare Bureau was authorized by the U.S. Department of State to notify parents in Cuba that visa requirements had been waived for their children. This enabled the children to travel by commercial flights to Miami.

Father Bryan O. Walsh, the Catholic Welfare Bureau Director, became aware of the plight of unaccompanied minors in November 1960 when a Cuban man brought a fifteen-year-old Cuban boy to his office. The boy, Pedro, had come to Miami to live with relatives. The family was in dire straits, and the CWB was asked to provide foster care. Father Walsh realized that unaccompanied minors were always found among refugees seeking a safe-haven. There would be many more "Pedros." Father Walsh bought the matter to the attention of Mr. Tracy Voorhees, sent by President Eisenhower, to assess the needs of Cuban refugees in Miami. Mr. Voorhees recommended that the President approve funds for the care of unaccompanied minors. This meant that if the children could get to Miami, funds would be available to their care.

Mr. James Baker, the headmaster of Ruston Academy, an American school in Havana, was at the same time organizing a network of Cubans and expatriates to help get their children to Miami. On December 12, 1960, Mr. Baker and Fr. Walsh met to discuss how they could work together. This was the beginning of Operation Pedro Pan. Mr. Baker would get the children out of Cuba, and Fr. Walsh would provide shelter care for those who had no one here.

In twenty months between December 26, 1960, and October 23, 1962, over 14,000 unaccompanied minors arrived in Miami under the Catholic Welfare Bureau's sponsorship. Those included youth from all parts of the island. While the majority were Catholic, several hundred were Protestant, Jewish, or non-believers. Very few were from wealthy backgrounds. These were already in Miami with their families. Most were of the middle class or lower middle class and included children of different racial backgrounds, Black and Chinese.

A network was established which reached all over the island. At the heart of this network was Miss Penny Powers, a British citizen. Other names included Pancho and Bertha Finlay, Dr. Sergio and Serafina Giquel, Sara del Toro de Odio, Ramon, and Polita Grau, Albertina O'Farril, and many others whose names are known only to God.

Family reunions began in Miami shortly after the first arrivals. Approximately 50% were united with family members at the airport. Eighty-five (85%) of the 7,000 taken into care by the CWB were between 12 and 18 upon arrival. Seventy (70%) were boys over the age of 12. Because many minors were older teens, they became independent very quickly, and statistical information on the reunion with their parents is not available. Likewise, such information is not available on those who went to live with relatives upon arrival. However, it is reasonable to assume that the rate of a family reunion of those who lived with relatives is high if not higher than those who were united while still under care.

Commercial flights between the U.S. and Cuba ceased with the Missile Crisis of October 1962. This began a three-year period during which travel was through third countries, Spain and Mexico. Twice a day, Freedom Flights started on December 1, 1965, under an agreement between the two governments for the purpose of family reunion. Parents of unaccompanied minors were accorded priority. Close to 90% of those still in care were reunited with their parents by June of 1966.

After the Freedom Flights started on December 1, 1965, the delays in family reunion were due primarily to the Cuban Government's regulations in delaying certain professionals' emigration and its refusal to let young men between 15 and 26 emigrate with their parents because of military service obligations. In the relatively few other cases where such reunions did not eventually occur, this was due to parental deaths, or a father or mother staying behind to take care of an elderly parent. The agency has no record of any case where a minor was lost. The agency has not received any request from anyone in Cuba asking for information on a child's whereabouts. During the past thirty years, it has been relatively easy for people to travel to Cuba to look for their families. Nor has the agency been asked by a former unaccompanied minor for help in finding a lost parent. Reports that significant numbers of minors lost contact with their families is simply not true.

During the entire Operation Pedro Pan, every effort was made to avoid publicity and avoid any effort to use it for political propaganda. The agency was often criticized for this by some elements in the exile community in Miami who wished to use the children's image. The agency maintained minimum contacts with Cuba other than with the parents whose children were under its care. At no time was the Catholic Church as an institution in Cuba involved. Individual priests and religious did seek and receive visa waivers. Thousands of visa waivers were sought in Miami by exiles and sent to their relatives in Cuba along with the required $25.00 money order for the round-trip airfare. Within Cuba, many networks were organized by Cuban parents to spread knowledge about the operation throughout the island.

The biggest problem for the Catholic Welfare Bureau, as the number coming grew week by week, was the lack of facilities to care for the minors in Miami. This was solved by asking Catholic Charities agencies around the country to provide foster homes and group care homes for the young exiles. This care was provided in over 100 cities in 35 States. The state authorities licensed all such foster and group homes. Special group homes, staffed by Cuban house-parents for Cuban adolescent boys, were opened in several cities such as Wilmington, Delaware, Fort Wayne, Indiana, Albuquerque, New Mexico, Lincoln Nebraska, Jacksonville, and Orlando, Florida as well as Miami. Contrary to reports, no children were placed in reformatories or facilities for delinquent children. This would not have been permitted under state law.

No children were placed for adoption since the whole purpose of the program was to safeguard parental rights. The Cuban parents who sent their children to the U.S. were exercising a fundamental human right, which antecedes any human constitution or law.

The Catholic Welfare Bureau had no means of influencing Cuban parents to send their children to the United States. Every effort was made to avoid publicity or propaganda. This was not its role or mission. Instead, the CWB responded to Cuban parents' desire to protect their children from Marxist-Leninist indoctrination after the literacy campaign's experience in the summer of 1960 and the closing the Catholic and private schools in June of 1961. What the Catholic Welfare Bureau did was provide a means for the Cuban parents of that period to exercise their fundamental human right to direct their children's education.

Unfortunately, their fears have been proved by history to have been altogether too real on January 22, 1998. Pope John Paul II, in his Homely in the Instituto Superior de Cultura Fisica "Manuel Fajardo" in Santa Clara, said: "Experiences not easily accepted and often traumatic, is the separation of children. The substitution of parents' role as a result of schooling away from home even during adolescence. These experiences place young people in situations which sadly result in the spread of promiscuous behavior, loss of ethical values, coarseness, premarital sexual relations at an early age, and easy recourse to abortion".

The parents learned when their sons and daughters returned from the Literacy Campaign of 1960 is still going on. In his Homily in Santa Clara, the Holy Father referred to "a problem which has existed in Cuba for years, people being obliged to be away from the family within the country, and emigration which has torn apart whole families and caused suffering for a large part of the population.' Because of its ideological stance, the Cuban Government has imposed and is still imposing these sufferings on the Cuban people. No one can deny that separation from one's family is always traumatic and painful. How could it be otherwise? However, at times it is necessary because it is the lesser of the two evils. The real heroes of Pedro Pan were the parents who made the hardest decision that any parent can make.

“I didn’t see them for 18 years. I don’t want to say it again because I am going to start crying. I suffered so much, so much, so much... but I would do it again because getting them out of communism and into the land of freedom, this blessed land, is priceless.”

Marta Ortega (1921-2018)

Mother of Pedro Pan Ed Rabel

VIDEO TESTIMONIALS

RESOURCES

We have successfully collected a plethora of official documents and statements to catalog what really happened throughout the years of Operation Peter Pan.
For the full list, click the link below.