COLORADO SPRINGS. In the last month, life has changed for Americans. Our current situation of social distancing and stay-at-home orders has, at the very least, disrupted plans and, at the worst, has completely changed lives. Life for those who attend St. Mary’s High School has, of course, also been affected. As plans are shifting, one thing remains consistent for those associated with St. Mary’s — the community.
Each spring, the St. Mary’s community gathers at the Annual Gala to celebrate our relationships and raise money for the St. Mary’s Tuition Assistance Program. This year that gathering will be a virtual one, with the silent auction occurring online and the live auction being livestreamed. To register for these events, visit smpirates.org and click on “Gala” at the top of the page.
“This year, the Gala is more important than ever. Of the top 25 private high schools in Colorado, St. Mary’s is by far the least expensive,” said St. Mary’s President Rob Rysavy. “That means we believe the value proposition for a virtuous, high-quality, financially accessible education is better at St. Mary’s than any high school in the state. The Gala is vital for us to maintain the accessibility of that virtuous, high-quality value proposition.”
St. Mary’s Tuition Assistance Program may be more important than ever as families face the changing economic landscape caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Each year, St. Mary’s awards more than $400,000 in tuition assistance to deserving families.
For senior Mateo Osorio, the St. Mary’s community, as well as the college-preparatory education, were a godsend that was made possible by the Tuition Assistance Program. Growing up in Houston, Osorio had never thought he would attend St. Mary’s High School, the school his cousin Eddie Vargas had graduated from in 2015. Then, one day in late April 2016 life changed for the then middle school student when his girlfriend died by suicide on April 24.
Mateo said his home situation in Houston was never ideal. However, with the support of his girlfriend and his soccer and track teammates, he managed to handle the stress. The loss of his girlfriend left him reeling, and without emotional support from his parents, he couldn’t handle the grief he was experiencing. His parents had him admitted to a psychiatric ward, a move he is now thankful for because it was there that he found the support he needed. After his release, Osorio called his aunt and uncle in Colorado and asked if he could stay with them for a while. They immediately took him in.
When the Vargas family asked Mateo to move in with them permanently and consider attending St. Mary’s for high school, he found the home he had been looking for. He visited the school, and although it was much smaller than the schools he had attended in Houston, he liked what he saw. While within just a few months everything in Mateo’s life had changed, he found his transition to St. Mary’s “surprisingly smooth.” He immediately made connections with other freshmen, as well as some of the juniors and seniors on the track team, and found the acceptance he had been looking for.
“It was exactly what I needed,” he said. “I needed to make a fresh start and make new friends. It was wonderful to have people accept me with open arms. I was so grateful for that.”
Mateo said he found support not just from those who became his closest friends at St. Mary’s, but from the community as whole. Each day someone would say “hi” or ask how he was doing, and often those people weren’t students he knew well.
“The community is wonderful and I smile every day thanks to it. This community has opened me up in ways I never would have imagined,” he said. “I have become a lot stronger in my faith. I had been really independent but being a part of this community has shown me that I don’t have to always rely on myself. That I can let others be my support and put my faith in God.”
Every aspect of Mateo’s experience at St. Mary’s centers on community. The track season his freshman year is one of his best memories during his four years at St. Mary’s, but not because of the finishes or results that season. He said what made it special were the people — his teammates and coaches — who cared more about the people than the sport and supported him regardless of the results. While at times he felt challenged by the academics at St. Mary’s, Mateo said he has risen to it by learning to better communicate with his fellow students and his teachers.
Theology classes and Campus Ministry Retreats have inspired his faith journey, and this year he has served as a Campus Minister. In theology classes, Mateo said they tackled conflicts that students face on a daily basis, which served as a reminder to him that there is always a story behind the actions and behaviors of others.
“Knowing the story behind the story has played a big part in my life,” he said. “You can look at someone and not know what they are going through. It means a lot to be a Campus Minister because I can help others the way they helped me to express what was going on internally, not only mentally but emotionally as well.”
Next year, Mateo will be at college, probably in Texas, working toward his dream of becoming a mechanical engineer. While the change is scary, Mateo said he is also excited for the future and feels equipped to move onto the next phase of life.
“St. Mary’s not only challenges you, but it helps you mature into the person you want to be,” he said. “I finally have the family I always wanted and friends who care about me and the foundation that laid out my future. To leave all of that behind is a little scary, but sometimes we need that little push, that leap of faith, to go into the unknown, for me into adulthood. Being a part of St. Mary’s has been an awesome experience and I’ve loved every minute of it. St. Mary’s showed me that I can open up and be accepted for who I am, and for what I have to offer.”
St. Mary’s High School invites you to help us provide a St. Mary’s experience to more students like Osorio by supporting our Annual Gala and the Tuition Assistance Program.
“Now more than ever we are relying on our faith to transcend our social distance,” Rysavy said. “We are leaning on our amazing St. Mary’s community to make this virtual Gala a successful Gala; and thus support these faithful and knowledgeable future leaders for our Church and community.”
(Amy G. Partain is Director of Communications for St. Mary’s High School.)