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A Thank You to Professor Humberto Belli

By Father Christopher M Saliga, OP, RN, BSN ’92

Motives: 1) To thank the TOR Franciscans who founded a college to benefit veterans. 2) To thank Professor Humberto Belli, a different kind of veteran, who had quite an impact on an 82nd Airborne Division veteran in a Steubie U classroom on a cold October morning in 1988.

Relevant Military Background:

In June 1988, I honorably left the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division to study nursing at Franciscan University of Steubenville. When I arrived on campus several weeks later, I had no idea that I would end up taking a sociology course under the tutelage of a former Sandinista. There is real irony here. While in service with the 82nd Airborne Division, we were part of a rapid deployment force package that stood in support of the U.S. Army’s 7th Special Forces Group (SFG). Elements of 7th SFG advised and trained the Contras (largely in Honduras) who in turn directly opposed the Sandinistas (largely in Nicaragua). Although I never deployed down there, some of my good friends did. This was one of those little-known hot zones of the Cold War.

The Encounter:

That first semester, I took an introductory sociology course from Prof Humberto Belli, a former Sandinista—then in exile at Steubie U. Even as I write this, more than 30 years later, the thought of Professor Belli fills my heart and mind with joy and gratitude.

Back in late October of 1988, autumn was settling in and I hadn’t yet purchased a “civilian” coat. Fortunately, I still had my Army field jacket, which I used on one particularly cold morning en route to Professor Belli’s class. As I entered the classroom, I noticed Professor Belli looking at my 82nd Airborne patch with palpable intensity. I knew very little about Professor Belli’s background.

As class finished and I got up to leave, Professor Belli said to me, “Chris, can I ask you a question?” to which I nonchalantly replied, “Sure.” He then asked if I had served in the 82nd Airborne Division to which I replied yes. He was quite moved and noted that we had been “mortal enemies.” We then proceeded to talk on the level for several minutes. He was clearly moved by what I represented–the 82nd Airborne Division; moreover, I was awestruck to find out precisely who he was and what he had been through.

We marveled together at God’s providence. Professor Belli had made it out of Nicaragua alive. I never had to go down there but had friends who had. I knew from several reference points that the situation down there was all too real.

Many thanks Professor Belli for having taken the time to share your amazing story with me. You had an immediate and lasting impact on my life! Many blessings to you and your family!

Gratitude to the TOR Friars for their YES in a post WWII context:

In the mid 1940s, the TOR Franciscans generously responded to a real need in Steubenville. The friars started a Catholic college unto the benefit of many returning WWII Veterans. As a far-more-recent non-combat veteran, thank you very much for having welcomed Sociology Professor Humberto Belli onto the faculty many years ago unto my great benefit!

Father Chris Saliga, OP, serves as religious superior of St. Thomas Aquinas Dominican House in West Lafayette, Indiana, a formal house of the Dominican Province of St. Albert the Great – Central Province, USA.  He also serves as a parochial vicar at St Thomas Aquinas Parish at Purdue University in West Lafayette.