The Valdez Star - Serving Prince William Sound and Copper River Basin

By Tony Gorman
For the Star 

Sister Marie says bon voyage to Valdez

Iconic leader returning to her order after 44 years of service


Tony Gorman photo

Sister Marie Brent said farewell to well-wishers last week during a send-off at the Valdez Senior Center.

She's not your typical nun.

Sister Marie Brend, whose career in the Last Frontier spanned 44 years, ended her Alaska adventure last week after serving 21 years in Valdez.

Last Wednesday, an ice cream social send-off was held at the Valdez Senior Center for Brent. While mingling amongst friends, she still can't believe she's calling another place other than Alaska home.

"I'll be honest, it's not real" Brent said. "I doesn't seem real to me. In about a week, it will hit me that I'm no longer an Alaska resident."

Brent says she has made numerous trips back and forth to California in recent years to address health issues and that she decided she needed to move back for good.

Brent's path to sisterhood could be described as destined. Growing up in a Catholic household, she said during her childhood she wanted to be a nun but did consider other careers.

"When I got older I was going to join the Marine Corps. Then I got talked out of that," Brent said. "And then, 'I think I'll be a veterinarian.' Eventually when I got out of high school, I got back to the idea of being a sister."

She volunteered with the Sisters of the Holy Family. She joined the order a year later - and has been with it for 61 years.

Brent's first stop in Alaska was Sitka in 1972. During her time there, she became a trained EMT. She took that skill to Juneau, Dillingham, and Dutch Harbor, where in 1984 she earned the title Alaska EMS Educator of the Year. She's also a trained pilot and flew to bush communities.

"My work with the people was very enriching to me," Brent said. "My other work as an emergency technician gave me tremendous amount of joy and fulfillment."

She finally landed at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Valdez in 1993. At the time, the parish didn't have a resident priest. Brent's title with the parish was pastoral administrator, but served in various positions, even after the parish welcomed a resident priest in 2011.

Her biggest accomplishment during her time in Valdez came when Archbishop Roger Schwietz presented her with the Pro Ecclesia et Pontific Medal from Pope Benedict XVI.

Valdez Star file photo

Sister Marie Brent went for a spin with bikers after the 2011 blessing of the bikes.

Outside of the church, Brent served on the Valdez Senior Center Board. She also has an interest in motorcycles - thanks to one of her brothers.

"The youngest of my brothers, Jerry, was a motorcycle nut." Brent said. "Jerry was my mentor, my hero. So Jerry flew a plane, I had to fly a plane. He got a motorcycle. I got to ride on the back of his motorcycle. You know what ever Jerry did, I wanted to do."

She was invited and has blessed the motorcycles of the Abate Club every year. Even though she has returned to California, she doesn't plan to stop serving with her fellow sisters.

"I hope to get some resolution to my hip problem that's kind of been bugging me, so I can be more active," Brent said. "But, I will be very involved in a lot of things."


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