Since 1984, Miriam Oliveros, OP, has served as the head of school at San Vicente de Paul Bethania, the Houston Dominicans’ mission school in Guatemala City, and has led with a deep love that emanates throughout the close-knit school community. Despite many challenges, compounded in the last two years by the pandemic, Sister Miriam and the school community continue to thrive.
Sister Miriam was born in Guatemala City, Guatemala. When the Dominican Sisters of Houston came to Zacapa, Guatemala in 1966, Sister Miriam traveled from Guatemala City to live with them and four other teachers and began teaching in the parish school. Inspired by the sisters’ community life and devotion, Sister Miriam entered the convent in 1970.
During her 52 years as a Dominican sister, Sister Miriam has ministered mostly in education in Guatemala. She has taught in both Catholic and public schools in Guatemala and taught kindergarten at a Catholic school in Houston for four years. She began her long tenure as head of school at San Vincente de Paul Bethania when the Houston Dominicans began sponsorship of the school in 1984.
San Vicente de Paul Bethania is a small miracle in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Guatemala City. The Bethania neighborhood is overrun with drugs and violence, but against tremendous odds, the children at the school succeed, graduate, and continue their studies. The school serves about 530 children from pre-k three through the sixth grade. One needs only to walk down the halls of San Vicente to realize it is a warm and loving place. The classrooms are small and crowded, but the children are happy to be there and happy to be learning. They understand that their education is an opportunity to end the cycle of poverty into which they were born. The families with whom Sister Miriam counsels and collaborates are so grateful for the opportunity to send their children to this school where there is no violence, where no one goes hungry, and where every child is loved, appreciated, and encouraged to learn.
Sister Miriam is small in stature, less than five feet tall, but she commands a great deal of respect. Her interactions with the children are heartfelt, looking them in the eyes with such love and affection and strength. She has infused the teachers and children with this love and a desire to learn and grow. The children, as impoverished as they are, are so grateful for what they have and are willing to share whatever they can.
Graduates of San Vicente have come back to serve the school as teachers, counselors, doctors, and more. Over the years, more than twenty alumni have returned to teach. Alums repeatedly express their gratitude for Sister Miriam and for the school that changed their lives.