Jorge Duarte and Luisa Estupiñán were married at Saints Paul and Augustine Parish in Washington in 1966.
Jorge Duarte and Luisa Estupiñán were married at Saints Paul and Augustine Parish in Washington in 1966.
Every morning, Jorge Duarte makes a cup of Cuban coffee and brings it to his wife of 52 years, giving her a taste of the country they are both from, but for a long time could never return to.

“The little joys are the ones that really stay with you,” said his wife, Luisa Estupiñán, as she talked about that morning routine.

Both Duarte and Estupiñán came to the United States to flee Cuba’s communist government in the 1960s, but did not meet until afterward, when they both attended a Spanish-language Mass at Saints Paul and Augustine Parish in Washington.

During the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, Duarte was one of the many people taken into custody and imprisoned for suspected disloyalty to the Cuban government. He spent about five days in the moat of a castle on Havana Bay, because they had so many prisoners that they could not fit them all inside the castle. The women and children were kept inside, and the men were kept in the moat, Duarte recalled.

“They arrested everybody,” he said, adding that they were all there for a different reason.

Duarte recalled that the conditions there were not as bad as they were in other places where people were being imprisoned, because there, at least, they had fresh air and their families were allowed to bring them food.

“Some people’s families didn’t know where they were,” he recalled.

Soon after, Duarte was able to attain the necessary paperwork and flight arrangements to leave Cuba and come to the United States.

“It was very sad, when I left, looking through the airplane window, leaving your country behind,” he said. “I knew I probably wasn’t able to go back.”

After being unable to find work in Miami, Duarte moved to Washington and soon began working for the World Bank, where he stayed until his retirement in 1999.

Estupiñán was a part of the group of children who came to the United States through “Operation Peter Pan,” which was the largest Mass exodus of unaccompanied minors to come to the country legally. Father Bryan Walsh, who was then the director of the Catholic Welfare Bureau (Catholic Charities), organized the operation to fly the children from Cuba to the United States during a time when Cuban families were fearful of what the government was going to do with their children.

Catholic Charities eventually placed Estupiñán in an orphanage in Richmond, and the chaplain there helped her to pay to study at Georgetown. It was when she started school there that she moved to Washington and met Duarte.

Since the custom of their culture at the time was for young couples to be chaperoned while they were dating, Duarte’s mom would accompany them on their dates.

“When we were courting, we spent hours on the phone,” Estupiñán recalled. “I really don’t remember what we talked about.”

The two were married in the church where they had first met, with Estupiñán’s brother walking her down the aisle, since her parents still lived in Cuba. Fifty-two years later, they still affirm the importance of that sacrament.

“The grace of God is in you when you receive the sacrament,” said Estupiñán. “From there it just flows.”

Agreeing, Duarte noted that getting married in the church shows that the wedding is not just a party, but is a commitment made before God.

Since their wedding day, some of the biggest joys of their marriage over the years have been the births of their three children, watching them as they reached different milestones in life, and “the joy of being part of the Church,” said Duarte.

Both of them are involved in St. Raphael Parish in Rockville, where Duarte serves as a Eucharistic Minister, an Arimathean assisting at funerals, and a sacristan. Estupiñán works at the parish as the coordinator of Hispanic ministry four days a week, and also works as an X-ray technician in a doctor’s office three days a week.

Of course, their marriage has also made it through some difficult times, like the deaths of loved ones, especially when family members still in Cuba died and they were unable to go back for the funerals. Duarte also experienced a health scare when he had complications from a surgery that caused him to lose blood and be in an induced coma for three days.

One particularly challenging time was when Estupiñán’s parents came to the United States from Cuba to live with them after seven years of not seeing their daughter. Her parents had never met Duarte, and were used to their daughter being much younger, which required an adjustment for everyone involved, Estupiñán said.

For Estupiñán, it is her faith that sustains her during those difficult times.

“You have to put everything in the hands of God,” she said, noting that when she cannot solve such problems, she asks God, “just give me the courage to go through it.”

“It is like a weight lifted from you,” she said. 

When asked what advice they would give to younger couples, Estupiñán said, “They say marriage is 50/50, but really it is 100 percent each way,” and also emphasized the importance of communication, because, “If you don’t talk, how do you know how the other person is feeling?”

Duarte said one key piece of advice is to “never go to bed mad.”

Father David Wells, the associate pastor of St. Raphael, said the couple is a witness to the importance of marriage not by doing anything overt, but just through “the beauty of their relationship.”

“Maybe it is something that comes with years and the grace of God,” he said. “They both love each other and that love is so evident…There is a joy, there is a deep spiritual life they share…a life of service, a life of mutual respect for each other.”