|Olga's new book, on the Alviras.|
On November 8 we had the launch of the Alvira book [Our Lives in His Hands] in the Strathmore Business School. It was for cocktails with speeches and a book signing. The following morning we had a breakfast and Colloquium on the Family. Concha's brother, Professor Rafael Alvira, came for the occasion.
The events were very well attended, with a packed auditorium and sale of more than 100 books. Concha's brother gave a couple of speeches. A display of books on stage was hidden by a curtain with a red ribbon across it. The Guest of Honour cut the ribbon, the curtain was drawn – and coloured smoke went up with a bang! I was shocked and thought the electric lights had blown! But it was only a planned highlight of the launch.
The Guest of Honour was an Indonesian from the World Bank, son of Muslim parents who converted to Catholicism and later joined Opus Dei. His wife was also there, a Filipino lady. It was all very warm and friendly.
Olga sent me her remarks for the occasion, which I post here with her permission:
People like the book a lot. It's being translated into French, Spanish, and Polish.
Author Olga with Fred Comins, visiting from
NYC, about 1980. Olga is my sister. Fred
is my wife Alice Tepper Marlin's uncle.
During a Christmas visit I made to Archbishop Raphael Ndingi in 2010, with a colleague, Kitonyi Saiti, the idea for this book came about. We had told the Archbishop that Concha Alvira was going to Spain in February for the opening of the Cause of Beatification of her parents and he was very happy.
He had always shown great interest in the work Opus Dei was doing in Kenya, especially in promoting Christian family life and now he told us that he had a prayer card of the couple, given to him by the Nuncio, which he kept it in his breviary and prayed every day.
“A book should be written about them,” he said “so that especially the women can get to know Paquita who was just like them.” I said a book already existed in Spanish.
“Then translate it,” he said.
In September the following year I had to go to Spain for health reasons and spent the next four years in and out of the Clinic of Navarre University in Pamplona. I began working on the book there. I corresponded with Antonio Vazquez, a great friend and colleague of Tomás Alvira and author of the two Spanish biographies, and with a daughter, Pilar Alvira, who lives in Madrid but came several times to work with me in Pamplona and provided lots of help and information. I also had the invaluable experience of 30 years working closely with Concha here in Nairobi.
My main job was to convert the biographies into a chronologically based story, telling what happened as their lives unfolded and letting the facts speak for themselves. It was a beautiful task and I learned a lot, especially from the Alviras’ fidelity to the spirit of the Founder, one day after another as they built up a “bright and cheerful home.”
When I returned to Nairobi in September 2015 with the finished book, I had to start looking for a publisher. I was told that it would need a professional editor, and I should look for a prominent person to write the Foreword. For editor I thought of Mary Gottschalk, who edited my first book To Africa with a Dream [published by Scepter in 2002 and issued in a new edition with photos by Boissevain Books in 2011]. She was so enthusiastic about that book that the publisher commented that if she had her way, Mary would sell it at every street corner!
Mary is also editor of the three volumes of “The Founder of Opus Dei” by Andrés Vazquez de Prada, so she had lots of experience. She was willing to take on the editing of this book and fell in love with it as she worked, fully identifying with Tomás and Paquita. It took her nearly two years to complete the job. As Mary lives and works in Texas, she gave the text an American flavour; not out of place, as I am American-born… (Concha was amused to find her mother translated as saying: “You know what, honey?” to one of her sisters…).
For the Foreword, I thought of Mary Ann Glendon, a Professor at Harvard Law School and former U.S Ambassador to the Holy See. I had seen a video interview with her in the University of Navarre which greatly impressed me and later I admired some faith-filled decisions she took. As it happened, Mary Ann was well-known to Professor Alvira, and she was delighted to write the Foreword for a book about his parents. Her contribution was marvellous, giving an expert overview of the challenges facing families, and celebrating “the complementarity of the Alviras and their nine children in a faith-filled, loving household where work and family were closely intertwined.”
Scepter Publishers chose the title for the book and selected the cover photograph, which so much appealed to the journalist, Dorothy Kweyu, that she began her review in the Saturday Nation of August 11, saying: “The first thing that strikes one about ‘Our Lives in His Hands’ is the romantic image of Paquita and Tomás Alvira, whose laughter lights up the book’s front cover.” In the course of her article, Dorothy highlights the relevance of the lives of the Alvira couple for ordinary Kenyans and the couple’s personal involvement in this country which they loved so much. In 1980, when Concha wrote from where she was studying in Rome to tell her parents that she would be going to live and work in Kenya, they were at first taken aback, but quickly overcame it.
They answered, saying: “We have already read many things about Kenya, We want to know all about that country, so as to love it more.” Two years later they came to Nairobi to visit Concha and see what she was doing. They were thrilled with all they saw, so much so that her father exclaimed: “How I would love to come and work here, if I were twenty years younger!” They stayed for about a week and we all had a chance to meet the couple.
There was one unforgettable get-together in our Glenview home, when Don Tomás related to us the dramatic crossing of the Pyrenees with St. Josémaría in the company of several other young men. More than telling us about it, he relived it. We hung on his words, and at the same time I noticed how Paquita sat nearby, listening in the background, quietly supporting her husband. It was always like that.
They visited Kianda School and the Faida Club, where the children made Tomás an Honorary Club Member and presented him with a Certificate… One moment when we were alone, Paquita told me how amused she had been when years ago she overheard an answer Concha gave to her older sister. Maria Isabel had called her from another room and Concha, aged three, replied: “I’m coming because I want to, not because you say so.”
Freedom was an important aspect of the education the Alviras gave to their children and by the time Concha came along this was well-rooted in the family. It has been a privilege to write this book, and I hope that, as Archbishop Ndingi wanted, it will help many married people to discover the beauty of the marriage vocation.