By Joyce Coronel, Together Let Us Go Forth Magazine

“I think that God put it in me to be really drawn to Catholicism at a young age,” Adriana Osorio said with quiet conviction as she sat back in the molded-plastic seating at a Mesa fast-food restaurant.

“I just had the knowledge that this was right and that the Catholic faith was my home.”  

The petite, soft-spoken young nurse with waist-length russet hair has been following Christ ever since. It all began in Japan, where her father, a surgeon, was serving in the U.S. Air Force. Osorio was baptized abroad, and, after a stint in Texas, the family eventually settled in Mesa, where Osorio attended Christ the King Catholic School.

The East Valley nurse, who grew up the eldest of five children, is of mixed Hispanic heritage. Her father is Peruvian, while her mother is Mexican and Portuguese.  

“My family would cook Peruvian food and go to Peruvian restaurants. My dad has a band called Guitarras Latinas, so we grew up around that music,” Osorio said, adding that she learned traditional Peruvian dance from her father.

“We would dance the huayno with my grandfather,” Osorio said.

Recalling her grade school years at Christ the King, Osorio remembers praying before classes and, in particular, praying the rosary. That would come in handy later on. She was the only one of her Christ the King classmates to attend St. Mary’s High School in downtown Phoenix, some 40 minutes from her home in Mesa. She was drawn, she said, to the sense of a close-knit community of deep Catholic faith.

Right away, Osorio got involved with Youth for Life, a pro-life student organization at St. Mary’s that, several years after her graduation, still exists. The club organizes diaper and baby clothing drives for women in crisis pregnancies, and its members pray in front of a Phoenix abortion clinic. St. Mary’s juniors and seniors lead Youth for Life.

“You see the upperclassmen praying the rosary and going to abortion clinics to pray and having fun at the drives,” Osorio said, adding that she was inspired by these older students she looked up to.

During her sophomore year, Osorio’s mom gave birth to the fourth child in the family after a high-risk pregnancy. A subsequent pregnancy was also high risk, and Osorio’s father did not want his wife making the 40-minute drive twice a day with not only a baby in an infant seat, but in the midst of a difficult pregnancy as well. It was just too much, so Osorio switched to Red Mountain High School, a public school near the family’s home.

The about-face was a huge change. Not only was she in a much larger school, but Catholic faith and values were stingingly absent. Osorio founded a pro-life group at Red Mountain — and would later go on to found one at her university — but it wasn’t the same. At St. Mary’s, from theology classes to campus ministries to daily Mass in the chapel plus confession during lunchtime, the focus is on creating Christian disciples.

“That’s where I found the most wisdom and peace and answers for my life, especially being an adolescent and having all these questions about growing up and relationships,” Osorio said. “And that’s where I found the most peaceful resolutions and answers to the questions that I had about the things that were going on around me.”

Osorio asked her father if she could transfer back to St. Mary’s High School for her senior year, since she would be able to drive herself. Without hesitation, the answer was an unequivocal yes.

The long commute provided an opportunity for prayer, the kind she remembered from Christ the King and her freshman and sophomore years at St. Mary’s.

“The rosary was my go-to thing if I was feeling anxious from drama at school or anything,” Osorio said with a chuckle. “My 40-minute drive back, I’d spend half of it praying the rosary. That was always a sense of comfort to me, that repetitiveness and starting off the prayer with, ‘I believe in God.’

“That puts everything in perspective. Then it’s like, OK, nothing matters.”

“We place Jesus Christ at the center of the educational process,” the St. Mary’s High School website declares. It’s a motto President-Rector Father Robert Bolding stands by, emphasizing that students are empowered to become Christian disciples.

Keeping the faith in college

After graduating from St. Mary’s in 2017, Osorio attended the University of Arizona, where she studied nursing. While many college students part ways with their Catholic faith during these years, Osorio didn’t.

Quietly, humbly, she explained how that happened.

“My priority wasn’t making friends. My priority wasn’t being accepted. I knew my priority was to keep my faith and to grow as a person through college and to grow into what I was going to be doing for the future.”

And she’s hardly a nerd or a holy roller, either. Instead, Osorio projects an aura of serenity mixed with quiet faith, the kind that expresses itself in soft declarations and gentle smiles.

At times, it was difficult staying true to her faith, Osorio said, but she made some friends at the St. Thomas More Catholic Newman Center near U of A’s campus. It was really a friend from St. Mary’s High School, though, who helped her remain firmly planted in her Catholic faith.

Having a friend who knows you, who knows your values and can remind you of your goals and ideals and support you in them, is key, Osorio said.

“Sometimes you can lose sight of that.”

The main thing that helped her was having a consistent life of prayer.

“That’s how I kept my faith was having my personal relationship with Jesus, and always going back to Him gave me a sense of peace and reassurance,” Osorio said.  

It’s a point Tanya Bartlett, principal of St. Mary’s, emphasized.

“Our goal at St. Mary’s is to introduce students to Jesus Christ and help them grow in their relationship with him and their faith in the Catholic Church,” Bartlett said. “Knowing their identity and purpose in life empowers them to go out and live their faith in the world of work, education — anywhere they go — it’s something they carry with them that impacts not just them and their families, but also the people that they work with and serve.”

Domonic Salce, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Phoenix, said Catholic schools help students develop a personal relationship with Christ through prayer, service, and study. That trifold approach helps young people keep their faith once they leave the nest.

“We want to try to develop that personal relationship with Jesus from the beginning, from preschool and elementary school and all the way through high school,” Salce said.

“We’re not immune to having people think differently after they get out of high school,” Salce said of Catholic schools, “but it’s important that we plant the seed that will then grow in their heart and grow in their soul to help them and strengthen them as they move on to college life.”

In Osorio’s case, those tiny seeds of faith were nurtured and brought to maturity in Catholic schools. After graduating from nursing college last December, Osorio began work as a postpartum nurse at Mercy Gilbert Dignity Health, where she feels comfortable talking about her faith. Like many new nursing-school grads, she works the night shift and is learning to find her way. Osorio turns to God in prayer and often stops by the chapel when her shift at the hospital ends.

“I do have to go back to my rock, my center throughout the day,” Osorio said. Her drive to work in women’s health all began during her years at St. Mary’s in the Youth for Life club. Helping new moms recover from childbirth and care for their newborns is exactly where Osorio wants to be.

“I love it so much,” she said, her brown eyes dancing. “The lesson that stuck with me from Catholic school is being who God wants me to be, and not just what looks successful to the world.”


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