Mission San Juan Capistrano, one of nine California missions founded by Fr. Junipero Serra, is located just over a mile from JSerra High School.
PHOTOS BY RENNE ENRIQUEZ/DIOCESE OF ORANGE
That means JSerra is the only Catholic high school in Orange County and beyond where the saint the school was named after actually walked near the soil on which its campus sits today.
“We are down the street from one of the missions that he probably prayed at just as he was fulfilling his call to go out and bring the Gospel to all nations,” said Pat Reidy, JSerra’s vice president of mission and faith. “He probably prayed for all those who would come after him, and so we really feel we’ve been called to JSerra to build on the shoulder of this giant.”
JSerra celebrates its 20th anniversary this year and school officials marked the milestone with a week of festivities, culminating with a “Patrons Day Mass and Bash” on Saturday Sept. 23.
After Mass was celebrated in the JSerra gymnasium, attendees walked to the adjacent football field for the ash, which included free food, games and bounce houses.
“The blessings continue to be downed upon students who come through our school,” JSerra president Richard Meyer said following the Mass. “And we think about that and where we started back in 2003. We have so very much to be thankful for and I think many times we don’t even know the impact that a school like JSerra is having on all of our students, our families, our faculty and our staff.”
Sept. 23 was purposely chosen as the day to celebrate Mass and the festivities because the date is also the eighth anniversary of Fr. Junipero Serra’s canonization into sainthood.
On Sept. 23, 2015, during his first tripto the United States, Pope Francis canonized Fr. Serra at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C., marking the first and only time a saint has been canonized on U.S. soil.
At the canonization ceremony, Pope Francis referred to Saint Junipero Serra as the “evangelizer of the Western United States” and a “founding father” of the nation.
A large banner with a depiction of St. Serra that was displayed at the National Shrine now belongs to JSerra and hung from the ceiling at one end of the gymnasium during the Mass.
“The reason this school has thrived is because we have a mission,” said Tim Busch, who co-founded JSerra with his wife Stephanie. “You don’t build a Catholic high school every year. It happens every 20 or 30 years. Santa Margarita was the last Catholic high school to be built, and then this one 20 years ago and they said you couldn’t have room for both schools, but they’re both jammed.”
JSerra opened with 153 students on what was essentially an office complex. More than 1,300 students make up JSerra’s current population and there have been waiting lists at every grade level for the past four years. The school has added more buildings and a state-of-the-art athletic complex across the street that also keeps expanding.
JSerra has 28 CIF sports, 33 athletic teams, five club sports, 53 clubs, five magnet programs and will have graduated more than 4,200 students by the end of this academic year.
As JSerra’s special events coordinator, Charity Hauke spent hours planning the activities for the 20th anniversary celebration.
Aside from her position as special events coordinator, Hauke is a mother of seven, with one child who graduated JSerra, another who is currently a sophomore at the school, a child in eighth grade who will attend next year and four younger children who will likely attend JSerra in the future.
“We knew that we wanted to stick with the Catholic institution,” Hauke said. “So we went to all the local high schools, and it was just very apparent as soon as we walked onto the campus that there was more going on here. Besides just being academically excellent, we could tell that they really wanted to form the character of the students, and that was really important to us.”
Other alumni at the celebration included Carlos Garcia, who graduated from JSerra in 2006 and is back serving as the strength and conditioning coach for several Lions’ teams.
The expansion of the athletic program over the years since he was a student, which includes a new athletic pavilion, new fields and additional staff, has been amazing to see, Garcia said.
“A lot of the teams that I work with, bringing in sports psychologists, hiring multiple-trained coaches, and stuff like that and nutritionists, all those things,” Garcia said. “It’s great to see it. It’s great to see the school grow.”
JSerra alum Rachel Brack, who also returned to the school after finishing college, said the strong community vibe at JSerra is what makes the school stand out.“It’s awesome to see,” said Brack, who works in advancement.
One unforgettable experience for Brack was the student retreat to an impoverished region of Peru, where students constructed homes and delivered clothing and other needed items.
Brack made the trip as a student and then went again as a chaperone in 2022.
“I went on retreats and they were super spiritual and fulfilling,” she said. “I think it goes back to the community. There’s a great faith community around here and there’s a lot of support.”