By PATTY MAHONEY     6/25/2023

“Jesse loved this school so much. It will be very difficult to fill his shoes.”

—Elise Trent


St. Junipero Serra Catholic  School is mourning the sudden loss of a beloved staff member, Jesse Lopez, who died on May 21 at the age of 49.

Lopez was the school’s Facilities Director. He was an integral part of St. Serra for 26 years and was loved by all.

“I think Jesse was everyone’s favorite co-worker,” said Human Resources Director Elise Trent. “He took amazing care of the school, he was well respected by his team of custodians and he always made sure we had everything we needed.”

In 1997, at age 23, Lopez began his career with the school as a custodian, two years after the school opened, and was actively involved in the school’s construction on the Rancho Santa Margarita campus.

He was promoted to Plant Operations Director in 2006.

“He must have been a really excellent employee to get promoted from a custodian position to a director position at that young age,” remarked Trent.

Trent worked with Lopez for the last four years and could not say enough great things about the man she said exuded warmth and joy.

“He was really patient and approachable,” she said. “He never got stressed out, but if he ever did, he would just giggle and shrug his shoulders. He was a joyful person who made the best of every situation.”

Sr. Principal Tim Tolzda added: “Jesse was the epitome of a servant leader! He was a person who put the organization above his own personal needs and desires. He was a supervisor who built trust amongst his team, who would do anything for him.”

Ever dedicated to his job, he made the daily 100-mile round trip commute from his home in Perris along with his son Jesse, Jr. (“JJ”), who works in the IT Department at the school.

Born in Puebla, Mexico, Lopez was proud of his heritage and wanted to share the culture with his friends at St. Serra. Along with his custodial team, he started a tradition that lasted several years. In early August, before the students were back on campus, Jesse and his team, with the support of his wife, Maria, put on a Mexican feast for the staff members who were on campus during the summer months.

Administrative Coordinator Diana McCarron who worked with Jesse for 22 years, recounted another favorite memory:

“As much as Jesse loved his roots, he was extremely proud and excited when he became an American citizen in 2014. As was his style, Jesse did not like any attention focused on himself, but we threw him a surprise “Citizenship Party” anyway, and even though he was very humble as usual, you could see the joy and again the pride, in his face and huge smile, as we gathered around to honor him and his accomplishment!”

Classes were cancelled on the day Lopez’s memorial service was held so that staff could attend. Trent estimates over 100 current and past staffers made the trek to Perris to pay their respects to Lopez, the dedicated husband, father and grandfather, whom they all so greatly admired.

In honor of his favorite color (and his love for the Dodgers), guests at the service wore bright blue.

In the first few days following his death, the St. Serra community raised $45,000 for the Lopez family.

“The St. Serra Parent Teacher Organization stepped up very quickly to create an opportunity for everyone
to help the Lopez family,” said Trent. “The generosity of the community was touching and inspiring.”

It was an amazing outpouring of support expressing their admiration and appreciation to the man who kept
the campus absolutely beautiful and pristine.

“Every time you walked on campus, you knew it was that way because of Jesse,” said Trent. “We will honor
Jesse’s memory by continuing to take care of our campus and each other, just like Jesse did.