UST Celebrates Life of Dr. Gustavo Wensjoe
With an outpouring of emotion and affection, nearly 600 family, friends, students and colleagues gathered to celebrate the life of the late Dr. Gustavo Wensjoe at a prayer service held Thursday, March 26 at the University of St. Thomas.
Wensjoe, director of the UST Center for International Studies, died tragically in a car accident, along with his 10-month-old son, Julian Rodrigo, on Thursday, March 19, in Santa Clara, Peru.
Many of those present exchanged tearful embraces as they filed past a display of photos and recorded their recollections of Wensjoe in a memory book. Social networking provided a cathartic outlet, enabling hundreds of Wensjoe’s friends, family and former students to share their collective grief and pay tribute to his memory on Facebook. Those who were not able to attend the service were there in spirit, and people from around the world were able to view the service via live video streaming on the Internet.
The Rev. Michael Buentello, CSB, UST Chaplain, began the service with a reading from the Book of Isaiah. In the week since the campus community heard the shocking news of Wensjoe’s death, Fr. Buentello, said everyone immediately began sharing their “Gustavo stories.”
“As I hear those stories, I am reminded of the model of the Basilian Fathers: teach me goodness, discipline, knowledge,” Fr. Buentello said. “Dr. Wensjoe embodied those virtues, he embodied those characteristics. He offered more than just an excellent education, he offered them an example of Christian living.”
Other tributes at the prayer service were given by UST President Dr. Robert Ivany, Carlos R. Polo Castañeda, Consul General of Peru, Monica Aleman, a fellow Peruvian-born UST student majoring in international development, Professor William J. Cunningham, Center for International Studies Director Emeritus, Dr. Joseph McFadden, President Emeritus and Executive Director of ICUSTA and Sara and Michael Menendez, husband and wife UST international studies alumni.
Ivany said he will always remember Wensjoe for his gentle smile and boundless energy.
“What inspired that smile and that energy?” Ivany asked. “Why did he pour so much of himself into his profession? How did he have the energy to organize countless events and activities? Why did he take the time to reach out to the Houston community in so many different ways? I believe that underlying all of his energy and his smile was the simple, but powerful virtue of love. Dr. Gustavo Wensjoe loved his students. His love for them motivated him to do more than anyone could expect him to do. He cared for them deeply because he wanted them to succeed not only in their studies, but in their careers and, most importantly, in their lives.”
McFadden applauded Wensjoe’s overwhelming optimism and the “litany of love” he possessed for his family, native country of Peru, the Peruvian Education Project, the University, his department colleagues, his students, and his “special love for colleagues who lived in the larger global world of today – people who shared a global vision.”
“Gustavo believed that most of us are people of good will, and that every problem had a solution,” McFadden said “Even the toughest problems had solutions – just not readily apparent until you focused on the problem and not anything else. I found his font of common sense to runneth over, to be remarkable and truly an inspiration for me. I liked his sense of positivism, ‘can-do-ism,’ if you will. He bouyed my beliefs!
Cunningham recalled Wensjoe’s early days at UST, including his very first lecture. In the midst of celebrating Wensjoe’s life, Cunningham, took time to address the greatest joys of his life- his wife and children.
“In that first lecture, two of Gustavo’s qualities immediately stood out: natural, innate empathy with undergraduates; and thorough command of every major theory of international relations of the time,” Cunningham said. “Inexorably, the fusion of his life with his learning and his research persuaded him that to find fulfillment knowledge must travel beyond the classroom and the lecture hall. It must leave the cloister and the campus, cross oceans, and surmount hills until it reaches villages and shantytowns hidden and forgotten in countless valleys across the world. … He knew that transforming power from his own life journey. The sudden tragedy of Gustavo’s death has illuminated and crystallized vividly the meaning of his life and the destiny of his chosen mission.
“In our sorrows we must remember Joanne too, Gustavo’s beloved wife and still our First Lady of International Studies,” Cunningham said. “As she embraced us all, so we enfold her in affection and in our prayers and our condolences. Our losses, however great, can never equal yours. We hold you closely to our hearts, Joanne. And Julian, innocent and purest of soul. Take your Daddy’s hand. Guide him to the Gate of Paradise. Present him for all of us to our Almighty Father. Then with him rest in eternal peace and glory among the angels.”
The prayer service program featured a tribute to Wensjoe from Dr. Hans Stockton, associate professor of international studies and director of the Study Abroad Program.
“If who we are and what we’ve done is judged by whom we have touched and what they have been able to do as a consequence, I can think of no finer example of a man than my mentor and friend, Gustavo Wensjoe,” Stockton said. “The outpouring of grief is surpassed by a joyous chorus of gratitude for a life that was dedicated in some part to so many of us. Gustavo strove constantly to make himself a better person in all aspects of his life and he accomplished this in part through helping those around him be better people. The best solace I have is knowing that when Gustavo and his beautiful Julan Rodrigo entered the paradise beyond this world, Julian was in the arms of this father.”
Sara and Michael Menendez in part, credit their marriage to Wensjoe’s early matchmaking efforts. The couple shared stories about the profound and deeply personal impact Wensjoe had on students, his legendary sense of humor, his reputation for tough love and demand for excellence in the classroom.
“Every major decision in my adult life was somehow influenced by Dr. Wensjoe.” Michael said. “When I first came to this University, admittedly, I was a little rough around the edges. By the time I left, Dr. Wensjoe – much like the ocean – had left me a polished stone. In many ways he was a father figure to me. At his encouragement, I decided to re-establish a relationship with my father, whom I had not spoken to in many years. Without Wenjoe’s insistence, I don’t think I would have. He also encouraged me to pursue my now wife. I thank him for that and so much more.
“Gustavo Wensjoe was larger than life, and he is still here, he is, – as he ever was – the voice in the back of our heads, egging us on, urging us to do better, and to insist on excellence from ourselves and those around us,” Sara said. “He is the singing in our hearts telling us that more is possible, telling us that more is necessary. His dream was our collective dream for a better future. And if we keep that dream alive, Wensjoe will live forever.”
A memorial service will be held at 7 p.m. on July 18, 2009, at Jerabeck Center, 4000 Mt. Vernon.
View the complete prayer service video.
Donations in memory of Dr. Gustavo Wensjoe and Julian Wensjoe may be given to:
• The Dr. Gustavo Wensjoe Memorial Scholarship Fund: To make a donation visit the online giving page. For questions regarding online donations, call 713-942-3415 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
• The Peruvian Education Project: Donations can only be made by check payable to Peruvian Educational Project, Inc.
Mail checks to:
Dr. Linda Pett-Conklin
4414 Wigton Dr.
Houston, Texas 77096