Students at Junípero Serra High School in Gardena took part in a weeklong series of presentations, tours and classroom discussions to commemorate and learn more about the life of the newly declared saint, Junípero Serra.

The students were enthusiastic when they learned of Pope Francis’ plans to canonize the school’s namesake on Sept. 23 in Washington, D.C. “When we first told them the news, they just broke out into applause. They were so excited,” says Jaclyn Torres, director of campus ministry. The school had just finished adoration when the announcement was made last year.

Dericka Anderson, 17, a senior, said the weeklong celebration of Blessed Junípero Serra’s canonization was an eye-opening experience. “There have been things that I’ve heard before and now make more sense, but there are also things that I have never heard before that have inspired me,” she said. Anderson is also a member of the school’s Living In Faith Experience (LIFE) Team, who were partially responsible for planning the week’s events.

The school held events on each day of the week before and after the canonization in order for students to learn about the life of the saint and the canonization process. Monday’s religion class focused on the life of St. Junípero Serra with students watching a video about the process of canonization on Tuesday. “We really focused on what sainthood is, why we are called to a virtuous life and why we are called to be saints,” said Torres.

The students assembled on Wednesday, Sept. 23, to watch the canonization via livestream. On the following day, students, parents and alumni celebrated Mass in the saint’s honor.

Some alumni had not been back to the school since the late ‘70s, said Torres, “So it was really neat to welcome them back.”

On the last day of the week, student leaders and teams went for a guided tour of a local mission. The school will celebrate the saint’s birthday on Nov. 24 with a presentation of photos and videos taken during the trip.

Anderson said she was inspired by St. Junípero Serra’s commitment to spreading the Gospel. “I admire that even through his pain St. Serra still had a willing heart to serve God and love others,” she said. “This means to me that even through the struggles that I have in my life I should always have a willingness to serve God.”

Torres says the school provides many ways for the students to act as witnesses and to serve God through serving others. “All students are required to do Christian service hours,” she says. Students select ways to serve their required 20 hours each year, with many students working more than the required hours. Students have helped with the Special Olympics, fed the homeless and served as members of the LIFE team to organize religious events for the school. “So there are a lot of different ways that our students can be witnesses,” Torres says.

School principal Jeff Guzman said in a statement that he was excited to have his students witness the historic canonization. “There are a select number of schools in America that bear the name Junípero Serra,” he said. “It’s an honor and a privilege that we have great respect for.”