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Retiring professor takes his last Spanish pilgrimage with students

July 8, 2013 | Valorie Coleman

Dr. Eliezer Oyola, professor of Spanish, has once again completed the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

He led a group of 13 Evangel University students to explore 450 miles of southern France and northwestern Spain, May 5-June 17 — a trek to one of three main Christian pilgrimage sites in the world, along with Jerusalem and Rome.

Oyola plans to retire in 2014, so this was his last pilgrimage with students, who affectionately call him “Profe.” He describes the trip with great enthusiasm, especially the story of Madeline Irizarry, an adult student from Puerto Rico.

Irizarry’s life was transformed in every way by this pilgrimage. In the weeks leading up to their departure, she was fighting to overcome the trials life had thrown at her.

Madeline Irizarry in Spain

Madeline Irizarry had a life-transforming experience during her summer hike through Spain and France with a group of Evangel University students.

“The emotional hurt and pain were agony,” she says. “The first day of our hike on the pilgrimage, I cried. The mountains were up and up and up. I just wondered when we would go down.”

As Oyola can attest, the physical demands of the trip are part of the exploration of one’s mental toughness. Everyone’s belongings, anything they will need for the duration of the trip, have to be carried in a backpack.

Irizarry lost 30 pounds as a result of the exertion and training. She has been transformed, but not only on the outside.

“She reached out to other hurting people and to the younger students on the journey,” Oyola says.

“Every day, I was different,” she says. “Every day, I was stronger. I see myself in a different light now.”

Through this confidence-building experience, and because of the leadership of Oyola, Irizarry now plans to teach as well. She was even offered a one-year teaching position by the seminary in Spain, Facultad de Teologia, A.D. Spain (Córdoba).

“I fell in love with the Evangel students,” Irizarry says. “They allowed me to be a part of their group. They trusted me. They began to call me ‘Profe in Training!’”

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