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A student from Bánica finds a home at Marymount

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The first time Jeidy Delarosa Luperon saw an airplane was minutes before she was about to board it. The sheer size of it shocked Luperon, who grew up in a small farming community called Bánica in the Dominican Republic. She was just as intimidated by what she was about to do — leave her family and her homeland to attend college in a country where she didn't speak the language.

“I can’t believe I did that,” said Luperon, speaking in English from her high rise dorm on Marymount University’s Ballston campus. More than four years after arriving in the United States, Luperon now is completing her senior year with the hope of attending graduate school and becoming a high school teacher. “If I have kids one day, I’m going to tell them — this is what I did.”

The story of how a young woman from the Caribbean received a scholarship to study in Virginia began when the Diocese of Arlington partnered with the Diocese of San Juan de la Maguana in the Dominican Republic. Since 1991, priests from Arlington have served in Bánica and the surrounding towns. The support has been material as well as spiritual, said Luperon.

“People depend on the church in so many ways,” she said. “(The church) builds houses, latrines, they work in education. They provide clothing, food and medicine — anything you can imagine. Nobody ever cared that much for a town and nobody has done that much for a town.”

Luperon was born a few years after the mission began, Jan. 7, 1995, the youngest of five siblings. Her father grew corn, rice, beans and other crops in the field by their home; her mother cleaned houses. They were poor, she said, but never lacked the essentials. She attended local public school and always loved reading. She spent much of her time at church participating in the youth group, teaching religious education and manning the front desk.

Jeidy Delarosa Luperon poses for a photo with her mother last summer. COURTESY

jeidy and ma Once she graduated from high school, Luperon and several of her peers in the church were awarded a college scholarship through the Arlington Mission’s “Jovens Misioneros” program. The opportunity to go to college was a dream come true. “My whole life I wanted to go to college, but I knew there was no money for that,” she said. “I didn’t want to dream too big. I had to be realistic.”

But the college they attended was less than ideal. Classes were huge, teachers didn’t always come to class and grades were posted sporadically. Later, all the scholarship students transferred to a better college in Santo Domingo. Except for Luperon — she was headed to Marymount. 

After hearing a talk about the mission, former Marymount President Matthew Shank approached Father Patrick L. Posey, director of Arlington Missions and now rector of the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington, and told him they wanted to offer a partial scholarship to a Dominican student. Arlington Missions, the missionary arm of the diocese, decided to pay the rest. The two priests serving in Bánica then, Father Jason Weber and Father Keith M. O’Hare, nominated Luperon. Her parents were sad to see her leave, but happy, too. “My mom was crying but they were excited because they knew this was the opportunity of my life,” she said.

She spent two months learning English in the Dominican Republic before she came to Virginia in August 2015. She then spent a year learning English at the Northern Virginia Community College while living with a host family from St. James Church in Falls Church. When she was 20 years old, she enrolled as a freshman at Marymount. After finishing her general education classes, she decided to study English and education.

Though living here has been an adjustment, Luperon said she’s come to love her adopted home. “I’m so grateful for Marymount. I love everything about it — the education I’m receiving, the relationships you can make, strong bonds with faculty members,” she said. “I’m grateful that I’ve encountered people who have helped me grow spiritually and have challenged me to be a better person.”

Luperon doesn’t know what will happen once she finishes student teaching at different schools in the area this spring. But she believes God has a plan. “When I look back, I can trace how far God has led me,” she said. “Some of my friends say, ‘Oh, you are so lucky’ but I think I'm so blessed. I have a lot of things I don’t deserve, so they have to come from somewhere and I know that’s God working.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019