Sister Luz María Orozco y Aragón
Tribute to Luz María Orozco y Aragón
Luz María Orozco y Aragón was born in Mexico City, Mexico, on November 3, 1933, to Isidro and Rosario Aragón Orozco. Her father was a hydraulic engineer and was employed by the City of Mexico City. Her mother was a medical doctor. She had an older sister Ana María, and brother Francisco, called “Paco”, and was followed by sisters Tere and Lolita.
Luz María was raised in a very “protected” manner. She was dressed and attended to by a maid, and spent a lot of time alone and reading. One wonders if she would have had the life she did were it not for her youngest sister, Lolita. It was Lolita who questioned their parents as to why Luz María and she attended a private school when the children of their “servants” attended public school? And then, when the two of them were driven by a chauffer to the public school, asking why they did not ride the bus like the other students? So, ride the bus they did. Is it any wonder the poem Sr. Luz María would later write about her sister is titled, “If I didn’t love her so much, I would have hated her” ?
She said she really did not know Ana María, before she left home for Davenport, Iowa, where she met the Sisters of Humility and entered the community with the hope of being a missionary. Instead Sister Ana María became a Spanish teacher at Marycrest College but had her dream fulfilled years later when religious communities were asked to send members to Latin America.
A lover of learning, Luz María was desperate to continue her education, and followed Sr. Ana María to Iowa and to Davenport. She completed a BA in French and English at Marycrest in 1956, then a Master’s degree in English from Marquette University in Milwaukee in March 1958. Because Mother Geraldine Upham, President of Marycrest College, had insisted that she complete the Master’s Degree before entering the community, Luz María finally joined her postulant classmates that month at the former World War II Naval Air Base outside Ottumwa. The entire Ottumwa Heights plant: Motherhouse, novitiate, junior college and residential academy, had been destroyed by fire the previous October. The City of Ottumwa made the former World War II Naval Air Base outside Ottumwa available to the sisters while construction of a new “Heights” campus was in progress.
That summer she received the habit and kept her baptismal name in religion. She and her classmates made first vows in August 1960, at St. Mary’s Church in Ottumwa because the new Heights buildings were still in progress. They made final vows in 1963, in the middle of Vatican II.
The fall after making vows Sr. Luz María began her career as a teacher in both the English and Foreign Language Departments at Marycrest College. She began doctoral studies at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis in 1967. It was there she met the daughter of the owner of the Miami Dolphins football team, with whom she had a long-term friendship. That relationship gave her entry to at least one of the Dolphins home games, but a lifetime of admiration for the only NFL team to have a perfect season, undefeated and untied, including the Super Bowl, in 1972. Fortunately, she died while the Dolphins still had that distinction.
In 1973 Sr. Luz María was awarded a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Comparative Literature following three years of work at Oxford University in England. In support of her work, she had received a Danforth grant and was a Fulbright scholar for two years. In addition to her studies, she was tour guide for visitors such as Associate Sue Witte. They went to theater productions as well as historic and literary sites. After being named a full Professor in 1976, she returned to England, to Cambridge, as a Visiting Professor in 1978. In 1986-87 she had a sabbatical at Yale University in New Haven, CT where she often rode on the campus bus with famous professors and authors. Her sister, Lolita, visited her there. Sr. Mary Rehmann, then on sabbatical in Boston, took them to Salem, Massachusetts, where they toured sites associated with the “witches” and New England writers and poets.
Bishop Gerald O’Keefe named her the official translator for Latin American affairs in the Diocese of Davenport. She was a presenter on Mexican culture, history, civilization and traditions to church groups, elementary and high school students, often in Social Studies classes. In the early days of CommUniversity in the Quad-Cities she taught a literature course titled “Heroes – from Zeus to Superman”.
Sr. Luz María was named in many “Who’s Who” categories: “of the Midwest”, “among Hispanic women”, “in American Women”, and in the 1993 “World’s Who’s Who of Women”. Other academic awards included the “Teaching Excellence Award” from the Independent Higher Education Foundation, and the “Teaching Excellence and Campus Leadership Award” from the Sears-Roebuck Foundation.
She was an avid writer, from formal scholarly articles, to letters to newspaper editors, to the award-winning poetry that helped her restore her inner balance. Above all, she embraced humor, both in her studies and her life, whether in citing humorous newspaper articles from 18th century England or using soap operas to teach Greek classics, a method that culminated in the paper “As the World Churns: The Classics as Soaps.” She presented that paper at a National Linguistic Humor Conference and earned an invitation to an international conference in Ireland. The balloons and book on her CHM quilt block represent the two aspects of her personality.
Her affair with “frogs” was explained by long-time friend, Andrea Nelken, “She just loved them!” Coincidentally, frogs figure prominently in the colorful stained-glass art piece that stands in the Center Light Court. It is titled “Singers of the Rain” and was crafted for Sister Ana María in Mexico. Its title is the word for “frog” in the native Mayan language in San Andrés Larráinzar, Chiapas, where Sr. Ana María ministered for 36 years. During that time Sr. Luz María distributed Ana María’s letters to sisters and friends, and did fund-raising for the mission. Happily, they had time to know each other after Sr. Ana María returned to the states in 2004, until her death in 2014.
When Marycrest closed in 2002, Sr. Luz María served as a substitute teacher at Assumption High School in Davenport. Her mealtime companions at the Humility of Mary Center often exploded in laughter at her stories of those days.
Sister Luz María also embraced athleticism, regularly engaging in volleyball, tennis, swimming, and even skateboarding. For safety reasons, she would report to Sr. Joan Marie when she was going to the swimming pool and on return. Usually, when she did come for the evening meal in later years, it would be with wet hair. CHMs would agree that she missed the pool more than anyone else during repair periods. She was also a familiar sight in the afternoon, in- or out-of-doors, walking around the Center with rosary in hand.
One of Sr. Luz María’s poems speaks to us now:
Portfolios in stone
In corrosable moss
In nondescript dust
In proper margins
And standard title page:
This Tribute was written by Sister Mary Rehmann, CHM
Sr. Orozco's obituary can be found HERE...