|June 26, 2017 • VOL. 55, NO. 12 • Oakland, CA|
| Treasuring Catholic schools' legacy of excellence
'Good education and good values, and you don't forget that'
'There will come a time, you may be assured, when a reminiscent love will grip the hearts of you all. Not a filial love, to be sure, nor a passionate love, but a love for something that is lost, something that is forgotten. … Mind you. The day will come, I repeat, when you recall the happiest days of your life, your school days."
Over its 96-year history, the school graduated more than 10,000 students. Their successes have been well-documented in the world of sports: There's a World Series MVP (David Stewart, Class of 1975) and British Open champion (Tony Lema, Class of 1952).
Oakland City Councilmember Noel Gallo and Alameda Councilmember Frank Matarrese are among those who have dedicated their lives to public service.
Among the school's alumni are a number of Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose. Sister Mary Liam Brock, OP, is a member of the Class of 1957; she returned to St. Elizabeth to serve as principal.
By 1960, a new elementary school had been built across the street from the high school, thus opening both floors to the high school.
It did, however, take away one treasured tradition: the move upstairs by the eighth-graders who had been fortunate enough to pass the test for high school admission.
Decades of yearbooks portray life at St. Elizabeth: studious-looking young men in the science lab; drama students in matching sweaters with a big "E" on the front; Mustangs active on the court and fields.
Memories of St. Elizabeth's include elaborate staging of musicals, newspaper dominance in competitions and publication of a sports magazine, "Overtime."
The faces change, as time goes by, starting out with the mostly German and Irish families of the early days, African American students in the '70s and the Latino students of the school's later years.
Alumni Agnes McGee, Class of 1959, and Helen Greaney Leary, Class of 1951, shared their memories of St. Elizabeth High School during a June 16 return to the campus.
They were joined by Sister John Martin Fixa, OP, who taught at St. Elizabeth from 1970 to 1976. She was the journalism teacher and adviser to The Thuringian, the school's award-winning newspaper.
"I enjoyed it as a high school," Leary, who moved to the area at the age of 12, recalled. "I enjoyed the students I knew. We were bouncing along, nothing unusual, just trying to get out of high school."
From St. Elizabeth, she received "a good and decent education," she said. "I believe the teachers I had were very good instructors."
"When I got out of high school, I hadn't a clue as to what to do next," she recalled. Oakland's youth employment bureau referred her to Metropolitan Life in San Francisco.
"That's where I went, and that's where I stayed," she said. "I was there until about a year ago."
The school's reunions have been popular, said McGee, who is a parishioner at St. Elizabeth Church. All five of the McGee siblings are graduates, including her sister, Sarah McGee, now Sister Patrice of the Holy Cross Sisters.
"This school has always been here for the community," said Sister John Martin, noting the generations of families who have been educated there.
There was a closeness of community, McGee said. "You knew everybody, and they knew you. We still keep in touch."
Among the values the women have seen over the years are the longtime marriages of classmates. McGee recalled the 50th reunion of her class. "It was nice to see so many people who had been married for 45, 48 years," she said.
"We got a good education and good values and you don't forget that," said McGee.
Kristin Leary, who, on her birthday accompanied her mother on the visit to St. Elizabeth, said those values were evident in her family life.
"As the daughter and niece of many people who went here, I can say a lot of good values came out of here," she said.
Among those values, she said, "family is of the utmost importance, and being an honest and hardworking person."
"Many people say school is the heart of a community," said JoEllen Baker, who served as interim president during St. Elizabeth's final year, and has been named development director for Cristo Rey De La Salle East Bay High School. "Clearly St. Elizabeth is the heart of this community.
"We're going to build on this foundation and this heart."
— Michele Jurich
A legacy of generosity
Oakland Police Department Capt. Paul Figueroa, Class of 1990, was the speaker at graduation. The "added gravity" of this being the last graduation of St. Elizabeth High "as we know it today" was not lost on him.
He encouraged graduates to do three things: Slow down. Do something you love. Be generous.
Generosity may be the hallmark of St. Elizabeth, he said.
Figueroa recalled getting ready for the prom. He had rented a tux and checked out the venue.
"I was all ready to go," he said, but "I felt something was missing."
Then he saw one of his teachers, Marist Brother Victor Kenneth, wearing a black cashmere coat.
His student asked if he could borrow it.
"That coat completed my ensemble," Figueroa recalled.
After the prom, he had the coat cleaned in preparation of its return.
"When I went to give him the coat, Brother Kenneth said, 'I gave you the coat. It's yours.'
"To this day, this coat has meant so much to me."
So much, that he brought the coat along to graduation, and displayed it near the podium.
He also invited Brother Kenneth to the ceremony.
The generosity need not be measured in material goods, Figueroa said, but can involve spending time with people.
"That is the true measure of our character," he said, "how generous are we to others and how we bless one another."
back to top
|Copyright © 2017 The Catholic Voice, All Rights Reserved. Site design by Sarah Kalmon-Bauer.|