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Catholic Voice
 July 16, 2012   •   VOL. 50, NO. 12   •   Oakland, CA
Other front page stories
Volunteers hit a hole in one
The business of good and service
— a superb MBA program

The ordination of Rev. Derrick Oliveira
St. Elizabeth's:
'A blessing place' for educator
Sister Mary Liam Brock, OP, right presents a St. Elizabeth High School diploma to Arely Gutierrez at the June 1 graduation ceremony. It was Sister Liam's last graduation as principal of her alma mater.

For Sister Mary Liam Brock, OP, the last days of June were being spent in Oakland's Fruitvale District, what she calls "the hood." The Dominican Sister of Mission San Jose has been saying farewell to her alma mater, St. Elizabeth High School, which she had led as principal for the past 14 years, and to the neighborhood she had become a part of as a schoolgirl. Sister Liam spoke with The Catholic Voice staff writer Michele Jurich before departing for her next assignment at the Motherhouse in Mission San Jose.

What is your new ministry?

I'm going to be involved in formation for the congregation. I'll be a member of the formation team. The formation team works with women interested in religious life, pre-candidates all the way to the women who make final profession. I'll probably be zeroing in on candidates when they first come in and the novices in the first couple of years. I've already been back to Chicago for a program called ForMission.

How she came to be principal at St. Elizabeth High School

I was principal of our St. Catherine's Academy, a boarding school for boys. After six years, — and I'd been principal elsewhere before that — the congregation said to me, "Would you like a sabbatical?" Yes, I would like a sabbatical, but I'd like my sabbatical to be coming back to St. Elizabeth's. I became campus minister and was on the WASC leadership team. I did that for close to two years. Then the principal resigned just before school was opening. I've teased people: I have had the longest sabbatical of anybody in the congregation. Sixteen years.

On saying goodbye to St. Elizabeth

It's very hard to leave St. Elizabeth's. In the words of Flavia, "Some people and places come into our lives and leave footprints on our hearts and we are never the same." They're not meaningless words when it comes to St. Elizabeth's. I've been here since 1948. I grew up here. My family home is on the corner. When I was in third grade I came here. This parish, this school — I went to the elementary school as a child, later I was principal — truly has impacted me. This community, this area, formed me. It has been a blessing place for me. It formed me as a 10-year-old kid — the Franciscans, the Dominican Sisters, the whole area. It's where I was nurtured; where my personality was formed; where my spirituality was formed. It gave me a strong commitment of staying in the area to serve. I've been rooted in what I call the 'hood' — 34th Avenue—since I was a kid. It's not going to be easy to go. But it is part of life.

Scholarship fund
The Board of Trustees of
St. Elizabeth High School has created the Sister Mary Liam Brock '57, OP Scholarship. Contributions may be sent to
St. Elizabeth High School,
1530 34th Ave., Oakland, CA 94601.
Where do you feel you've left your footprints?

I would hope it's the commitment to service. We are called to what I call servant leadership. We are called to minister in that vein. The other footprint would be that kids have been able to come to this school and be who they are meant to be, and become what they are meant to be. That is one of the blessings that I received as a kid growing up and as a religious all my life. I have been accepted and been allowed to be who I am and become who I'm meant to be.

On the true fruit of the Fruitvale District

I've always said about St. Elizabeth's — be it the convent, the school, I call St. Elizabeth's the whole area — there truly is a basic goodness, or a rootedness in this soil, of that service, that community, that giving back. That was here in this parish when I was a kid and it's here again now. Different people, but it's here. There's a root here, like a taproot, that goodness and that giving. Our foundress, Mother Pia, said when she first came into this area, Fruitvale, "There's something good about this place. I like it." It's home. I can't describe it any other way. It gets in your blood.

On standing on the front porch, looking at the elementary school across the street

One of my greatest joys, which I will miss terribly, is standing on the front porch to watch the kids. I've said this to some of the high school students, as they see these little kids, "Do you remember those days? What do you think happens to you in between?" They kind of look at me, and shrug their shoulders. "You have to get back to the innocence, spontaneity and that willingness to reach out." You know they know. It's that seed. I believe very firmly that in life, wherever it takes them, that seed is there, and they will remember. It might not be flowering yet.

On service and ministering to others as the hallmarks of a St. Elizabeth graduate

If that's all they learn here at the high school, which I know is not enough, they will be good citizens, good Catholics, good Christians in their lives. The knowledge is important, college is important, and all of that. But given how fast the world changes, if we can teach them to be good moral individuals, called to service, if they can respect the dignity of other human beings, and give back, then we've done our job. They truly have learned. If they need to know who the 21st president of the United States is, they can go and Google it, or whatever's next. To grow up to be the best they can be and who they're meant to be. That's what I mean by becoming, giving them the freedom to do that and guiding them, giving them the tools.

On those well-filled toolboxes

They will use them when it's time for them to use them. It might not be my time, or might not be their parents' time. When they're ready to pick up that tool, they'll have it.

Sister Liam's parting words

The Dominican prayer we say every day: May God Creator bless you, God Redeemer heal you, and God the Holy Spirit fill you with light.

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