School chaplain Thomas Collins, students Monika Dyjak and Nicole Majdecki, principal Simon Pryma and student Dasa Belov draw inspiration from Archbishop Oscar Romero who will be beatified May 23.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

School chaplain Thomas Collins, students Monika Dyjak and Nicole Majdecki, principal Simon Pryma and student Dasa Belov draw inspiration from Archbishop Oscar Romero who will be beatified May 23.

April 6, 2015
RAMON GONZALEZ<
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Students and staff at Edmonton's Archbishop Oscar Romero High School are rejoicing at the upcoming beatification of their school's patron, who gave his life for the poor and the oppressed. They say Romero is their role model and are happy that the Vatican is fast-tracking his cause.

Romero was archbishop of San Salvador during the bloody and tension-filled time leading up to El Salvador's 1979-1992 civil war. Shot dead while celebrating Mass in 1980, the archbishop has long been considered a saint by many in Latin America, but the official Vatican process of canonization had lingered for years.

Pope Francis cleared the way for his beatification earlier this year by decreeing that Romero was a martyr who died as a witness to the faith. The beatification, the final step before sainthood, will take place at the Divine Saviour monument in the capital city of San Salvador May 23.

One member of the school staff will be present at the beatification ceremony in San Salvador while the school will hold its own celebration May 22 with guests from the local Salvadoran community.

"We are looking at having some speakers come in to talk about what Archbishop Romero meant and continues to mean to the Salvadoran people," said school chaplain Thomas Collins.

"But certainly we know who this man was; he was such a profound model of Christ and the kids at our school are really aware of what a big deal this (beatification) is and how important he was. He continues to be a model for us every day."

A small copper bust relief of the slain archbishop will be unveiled during the school celebration. A life-size one will be completed at the end of June and set up on a wall at the entrance of the school. Both relief sculptures are being made by students from the advanced art class.

Principal Simon Pryma, who was part of a school delegation that attended the 35th anniversary of Romero's death March 21 at Sacred Heart Church, said students and staff are "quite excited" at news of the beatification.

Pryma said the principles that Romero stood for – social justice and integrity – are mainstays and focuses for the school that bears his name.

Over the years the school has raised thousands of dollars to help the poor and the needy locally and internationally. Currently the school's Social Justice League is raising funds for poor women in Kenya.

Teacher Greg Voigt, who has been at the school since its opening 11 years ago, said the school at 17760-69 Ave. was designed to be a community school based on principles of social justice.

RAISING AWARENESS

"Social justice is a big part of what we do, whether it's fundraising for our own students, whether it's collecting clothing for pregnant and parenting teens or building wells in the Third World," he said. "Every semester there is a significant initiative that's going on to raise awareness and to make a difference."

Words and images that are reminders of Archbishop Oscar Romero are present throughout the school named after the martyred Salvadoran archbishop.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

Words and images that are reminders of Archbishop Oscar Romero are present throughout the school named after the martyred Salvadoran archbishop.

Pryma, who has been principal since September, noted the beatification will require a change in the school name from Archbishop Oscar Romero High School to Blessed Oscar Romero High School.

Romero's possible future canonization would result in an additional name change to St. Oscar Romero. "So we are looking at that very, very carefully before we spend a great deal of money on changing our signs completely and our letterhead."

School staff member Adela-Ivette Handal, who is of Salvadoran heritage, will be in El Salvador in May and plans to attend the beatification. "Oscar Romero is very important to her and to her family and obviously to her nation and to our school," Pryma said.

PLANTING SEEDS

Collins said Romero's legacy has had a profound effect on the school and on himself.

"Every day that I walk in the doors I pass by the plaque on our wall that says, 'We plant the seeds that one day will grow' I'm reminded that it is incumbent upon us to follow in Romero's footsteps to help guide and lead our students to a fair, more just future, a future where we care about others."

Students and staff read Romero's prayer every week and "we constantly refer to him as a model of Christ and as a mentor for our own lives."

Grade 12 student Dasa Belov said she sees a bit of Romero inside everyone at the school.

"Our school follows what Romero once wrote and said," she said. "He took the people's needs and suffering as his own and I see a lot of that here at the school. We help the less fortunate, the Food Bank and the poor in the developing world."

Students even started a prayer group in tribute to Romero, Belov said.

IDEAL ROLE MODEL

Grade 10 student Monika Dyjak described Romero as an ideal role model who "taught us a lot of lessons on how to stand up for people's rights because when he was in his country he risked his life for people's rights."

Dyjak said she will keep the slain archbishop in her prayers during his beatification and will try to spread his message at her parish, Holy Rosary. "He died for his faith and I think we can all learn a lot from that."

Apart from the plaque in front of the school, images of the archbishop are all over the building. Every classroom has a poster with his prayer or his image or both. One poster in the fashion and design classroom features a stylish high heel shoe with a cross as a heel that says, "Romero Wears Prada."