Maria Auxilio Cervantes ’36 Viramontes celebrated her 102nd birthday surrounded by family and friends. The joyful occasion was also celebrated by her home parish, St. Clare’s, who sang Happy Birthday to her at Sunday mass. Auxilio (Auxie) was born in Jalpa, in the State of Zacatecas, Mexico, on October 31 in 1914. Worried about the persecution of Catholics and the safety of Auxie’s brothers, who were in the seminary, the family immigrated to the United States through El Paso, in the 1920’s. “Religion was very important to my family,” shared Auxie. “While we were still living in Jalpa, my family hid some of the church’s artifacts to keep them safe and we went to mass in the middle of the night.” The family lived in Santa Cruz for a time before settling in downtown San Jose.
“San Jose was a small town where everyone knew everyone else. We met through church and friendships and relationships were not based on race or income.”
After attending St. Mary’s School, Auxie went to San Jose High School for a year before transferring to Notre Dame. “The nuns at St. Mary’s were always encouraging us to apply to Notre Dame and I loved Notre Dame from the beginning. I took Italian for two years and earned high honors.” As a reward for earning top marks in the class, she was awarded a medal and given the opportunity to travel to Italy. The cost was minimal, with students only expected to pay for the fare to New York. “My father, however, wouldn’t let me go. He was afraid there would not be enough supervision. My parents were very strict — we went shopping downtown or to school in pairs. And we wore white gloves for formal events.”
“The education at Notre Dame was excellent,” explains Auxie. “The school gave me an excellent education and the skills necessary for a successful life.” At the time, students could choose to follow an academic pathway or a commercial pathway which provided them with the skills they needed to succeed in business, among them accounting, clerical, transcription and shorthand. “I remember transcribing President Roosevelt’s Fireside Chats in shorthand to practice my skills.”
Auxie and her husband, Ruben Viramontes, were engaged on the day Pearl Harbor was bombed. “He knew he would be going into the service and wanted to propose. Then he joined the Navy.” They were married in 1942. As World War II went on, Auxie’s brothers served as air raid wardens. Although they were never called into service, Auxie and her sisters were recruited as members of the message brigade. Auxie remembers having to keep the shades closed at night and worrying and praying for family, friends and neighbors who were serving overseas.
Ruben and Auxie had five children, including three girls. When it came time for them to attend high school, Notre Dame was a natural choice just as it had been for many of the women in the family.
Auxie, her sister Acela Maria Cervantes ’42 Bernal and daughter Lydia Jane Viramontes ’64 Schott recently returned to Notre Dame for a visit. Although they found the campus had certainly changed, all three were happy to learn that strong Catholic education was still a priority. Much in the same way as Auxie and her sisters, today’s students are still being taught ‘what they need to know for life.’