On August 15, 2018, Cristo Rey De La Salle East Bay High School, St. Elizabeth Campus officially opened its doors as the newest Lasallian ministry of the District of San Francisco New Orleans (SFNO).
The co-educational grade 9 – 12 school is located in the Fruitvale neighborhood of Oakland, California, on the site of the former St. Elizabeth High School, which operated from 1921 to 2017. Rooted in both the Lasallian educational tradition and the Cristo Rey school model, Cristo Rey De La Salle offers “a rigorous and personalized college preparatory curriculum integrated with a corporate work study experience that prepares students of limited economic means to succeed in college and in life.”
The school’s 69 members of its founding class of 2022 and 19-member faculty-staff, along with current families and St. Elizabeth alumni, gathered for Mass at adjoining St. Elizabeth Church, followed by a ribbon-cutting ceremony on the school’s front steps. They were joined by dignitaries from SFNO, the Cristo Rey Network, the Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose, and numerous guests and friends.
Prior to the start of Mass, school president Michael Anderer and principal Ana Hernandez formally welcomed the occasion’s attendees. “We are so grateful,” said Ms. Hernandez, “to each of you for saying ‘yes’ to the invitation to be part of this adventure, an adventure that God called us to with great love and tenderness. The journey that led us to this moment has convinced both of us even more completely that every action, every event and every person is a sign and a call of the Spirit for those who see with the eyes of Faith.”
Ashby Rivas, a member of the founding class of 2022, offered a welcome on behalf of her classmates, first noting that the school’s opening was taking place on the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She went on to say, “The Class of 2022 and I are eager to participate in what makes our campus unique and unlike any other. Together we are called to become young women and men of faith, service, and purpose. Through our personalized learning curriculum and our corporate work study program, we hope to become the future leaders of our generation and to not only succeed in college and the workplace, but in life.”
During the Mass, the students who filled the church’s front pews sat arranged by their homeroom “casas”, attentive and visibly proud, dressed in their uniforms of blue blazers, gray pants, and oxford shirts, with blue and gold striped neck ties for the boys and crossover ties for the girls.
Appropriately, the morning was filled with references to the possibilities and responsibilities of new beginnings. In his homily, Bishop Barber harkened back to his days as a chaplain in the U.S. Navy as he spoke to the students about their unique role in their new school.
“When the Navy commissions a new ship,” he described, “the ship’s crew is assembled on the deck. Then, the order is given, ‘Bring the ship to life!’ With that, the crew members rush to their stations and begin to take command of the ship. They are now ‘plank owners’ – someone who was a member of the crew of a ship when that ship was placed in commission. You are plank owners of Cristo Rey De La Salle High School. It is up to you to bring your school to life.”
Following Mass, the crowd made its way next door to the school’s main entrance, spilling onto the sidewalk and into the street. The ribbon-cutting ceremony began with a welcome from Greg Young, the school’s Director of Mission Advancement, and school principal Hernandez, who introduced Brother Donald Johanson, FSC, Visitor.
“Almost 350 years ago,” Brother Donald shared, “John Baptist de la Salle, our founder, did something that was simple and ordinary: he listened to the people around him, saw a need that wasn’t being met by the society of his day, and responded with a spirit of faith and zeal to begin opening Christian schools for the children of the artisans and the poor. Echoing St. Paul, De La Salle sought to bring young people to a knowledge of truth, to faith and trust in a loving God, announcing the Gospel. The mission of Cristo Rey De La Salle is a manifestation of this very same Lasallian story and mission. I am honored to be here today to celebrate this opening.”
In his remarks, Brother Donald also recognized and thanked the Franciscan Friars and the Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose, whose orders had been variously responsible for the establishment and the conducting of St. Elizabeth High School over its long history.
School president Anderer spoke next, recalling the significance of the campus’ history and its current significance to the life of the Fruitvale neighborhood.
“This building has been a school since 1924,” he explained. “I want you to imagine for a moment all of the students and parents and teachers, lay and religious that have entered these doors, and walked the halls of this school. In 1937, this neighborhood, including this parish, was “red-lined” on a map published by the federal government as a bad investment because of ‘odors from industries and the predominance of foreign inhabitants.’ And here we are, standing on these steps. Reinvesting in this neighborhood, in this incredible building, because this neighborhood deserves it. These young people deserve it.”
Bishop Barber then offered his blessing of the school and of the audience. Student leader Abigail Martinez-Morales did the honors of the ribbon-cutting, after which the student body and faculty-staff filed into the school. As the school day began, guests attended a social and were given tours of the facilities.
For the class of 2022, the opening day of Cristo Rey De La Salle represented more than a new beginning for a revered and valuable institution. It also was personal.
Student Nuvia Alvarez said, “I decided to attend here because I see myself doing better things here. Making wiser decisions and being a part of the founding class played a big role on why I chose to go to school here. Now that I’m here, I’m glad that I signed up because I feel a sense of community.”
Her sentiment was echoed by student Justin Sanchez, who added, “I decided to go to here because the school is a very major opportunity. Not only are we going to have a job so that we can be experienced when we go off on our own, but we also are getting prepared for success. The staff is so kind and genuinely caring. They all put in so much effort to see us succeed.”
Cristo Rey De La Salle East Bay High School, St. Elizabeth Campus. A small school that carries a large name, and with it the even larger hopes of its students and its community. Perhaps Bishop Barber’s prayer of blessing for the school best expressed those hopes as Cristo Rey De La Salle takes its first steps into the future:
“God of all creation, we dedicate this building to the human and Christian education of the young people You have kindly entrusted to our care. May it become a center where young women and men become leaders of faith, purpose, and service to build your Holy Kingdom here on Earth. May the relationships developed here be a sign of Your Love and may it be a catalyst to transform lives.”
Photos by Brother James Joost, FSC, and SFNO Communications.