In the early 1960’s, many Cuban parents faced the heart-wrenching decision of sending their unaccompanied child to a foreign country due to the political chaos they were witnessing. The new Cuban government had closed private and Catholic schools, foreign-owned companies were confiscated, and many industries were nationalized. The parents thought this separation would be short-lived and they would be able to bring their children home soon – it was inconceivable that a communist regime could survive within 90 miles of the U.S.
The papers of Monsignor Bryan O. Walsh, which include historic records of Operation Pedro Pan/The Cuban Children’s Program, are held by the Barry University Archives. Operation Pedro Pan was the name given to the largest exodus of unaccompanied children in the Western hemisphere. Between December 1960 and October 1962, approximately 14,000 children fled Castro’s Cuba and arrived in Miami. Approximately half of these children did not have family in the United States and were taken under the care of the Cuban Children’s Program and child welfare agencies depending on the child’s religious heritage. The Cuban Children’s Program was founded by Father Bryan O. Walsh (later Monsignor Walsh), Director of Catholic Welfare Bureau in Miami, who strongly advocated for federal funds to aid in the care of the unaccompanied Cuban children. This collection documents this very critical Program that granted invaluable assistance at a time of turmoil for these children arriving in Miami.
Various shelters were set up in Miami for the arriving children, but soon these became insufficient. Through the work of the Cuban Children’s Program and the religious agencies in Miami, over 100 cities across the United States provided group homes and foster care for these children. Operation Pedro Pan came to a halt on October 22, 1962 when the Cuban Missile Crisis ended commercial flights between Havana and Miami. Many Pedro Pan children were reunited with their parents in the U.S. when the “Freedom Flights” started between Havana and Miami in December 1965. However, many of the children continued in foster care for many years later.
Barry University Archives also holds other important collections, including but not limited to, the congressional papers of William Lehman, a John F. Kennedy collection, and the University records since its founding in 1940.
Barry University Archives & Special Collections
Lehman Hall 201
11300 N.E. Second Avenue,
Miami Shores, Florida 33161-6695