AVONDALE — The chapel at St. John Paul II Catholic High School is both a place where students can worship most days of the week as well as pray privately.

It is also a place where they can feel closer to the Lord as well as the school’s patron saint.

Within the recently dedicated altar inside the chapel is a lock of hair from the late pontiff, placed there and sealed prior to the ceremony. It forms a bond between worshippers and visitors that can soothe, encourage or instill humility, say students and staff.

“It hit me when I realized, ‘Wow. I’m in the presence of the relic of a Saint,” said freshman Frankie Ramirez, 16, who also serves at the altar almost every Sunday at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Glendale. “That brought a great sense of piety. I was one of the few people to see the relic before it was inserted. In 70 years, I can (return), knowing I was there on the first day,” he added.

“We have this special place we can worship with students and staff, and being able to be a part of that is a wonderful experience,” said Elisa Medrano, the school’s guidance counselor. “You don’t get to see a lot of altars dedicated because not a lot of churches are being built, so to experience that (the dedication Mass), I feel very blessed.”

Installed before the school opened last August, the altar’s four sides of deep, rich brown wood are highlighted by a front panel illustration of the Lamb of God and a Cross on its rear panel, facing away from the Congregation. It was dedicated at a March 14 Mass celebrated by Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted.

Staffed by the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia led by Principal Sr. Mary Jordan Hoover, OP, as well as lay educators, the far West Valley’s first Catholic high school opened with 147 freshmen and sophomores. Nearly 200 students and staff filled the chapel and its outer foyer for the altar dedication Mass.

Behind the altar is a tabernacle that Kay Verdugo, director of finance and facilities, said was the only one of its kind in the United States when it was ordered by the school. The shiny golden colored surface of the tabernacle exterior is offset with carved silver-colored figures of various saints, including the Blessed Mother.

“It is not ostentatious but not small. It adds to the sense of peace and reverence,” said Verdugo, adding that the tabernacle is “perfect for where it sits.”

Mike Moreno, whose daughter, Angie Duran, is a 15-year-old freshman, said the chapel has been a welcome part of her school life.

“She gets to open up (in the chapel). It’s like having another person to talk to,” said Moreno, a parishioner at St. Vincent de Paul in Phoenix.

Angie said she has used the chapel several times for a few minutes of prayer or quiet contemplation.

“I feel closer to God. If I’m not having a good day, it helps calm me because I’m reminded of God’s presence. I know He hears me, and He knows when I’m having a problem,” she said.