‘This tragedy has brought us all together’


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SAN DIEGO – Father Martin Latiff, MC, has served as a chaplain at Cathedral Catholic High School for almost 11 years. He’s one of three chaplains serving that high school and Mater Dei Catholic High School. His order, Miles Christi, focuses on the faith journey of young men and women in high school and college. He was born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where his order was founded. He’s served in the United States for 20 years.

Question: What do you do day-to-day at Cathedral Catholic High School?
Answer: In the mornings, we celebrate Mass for the students, faculty and some parents. During school hours, we’re available to serve the students with spiritual direction. They can sign up and meet with us to help them grow in their Christian life, and to strengthen their relationship with God and their family and their friends. About 300 students per year take advantage of this program. We do this in-person or virtually, depending if they are on campus that day. (The school operates in a hybrid model where half of the students attend classes at the school two days a week and, the other two days, they learn from home.)

At lunch, we hold a boys’ club and a girls’ club. It’s a time for fellowship. We have a conversation with the students about the Scriptures for the coming Sunday, always trying to connect them to the day-to-day reality of being a high school student.

What’s changed in the more than 10 years of doing your ministry at the school?
The retreats we offer have multiplied. There used to be two senior retreats; now there are five. Service programs have started, with students volunteering at organizations like Father Joe’s Villages. Our sense of family and community  has grown tremendously. It’s a joyful place, where students want to be. The enrollment has not gone down, even during the pandemic.

How did students react to the loss of Mario Fierro, the Cathedral coach and teacher killed on Feb. 1?
It was a very sudden, and sad and tragic loss because Mario was a teacher that we all loved very much. He was very joyful, very dedicated, very energetic, very passionate, and very faith-filled. I had the opportunity to speak to him throughout the years, many times. He was a great role model for our students, not just in the classroom but also on the field.

While it has been a sad and difficult situation, at the same time we know that Christ is with us and while we don’t understand how this could happen, we know that God accompanies us, and we put our hope that the Lord has Mario very close to His heart and to His Son, Jesus, and to Mary and that he’s in heaven now.

Did more students seek spiritual direction at this time?
There were a number of students who did reach out to us. And there was an increase in the participation of students in activities like the rosary that was prayed at St. Thérèse of Carmel Parish (the night of his death). Many students participated in the two Masses that were offered at school for the repose of his soul. It’s been a process for them, via spiritual direction, via counseling, and participating at these events.

Is this the first time many of them are experiencing such a loss?
Yes, especially a death of this sort, very unexpected, and very tragic. It’s a situation that requires particular attention to accompany the students and the faculty, not only immediately after the death but in the coming weeks as we navigate this difficult time.

We were available for the staff to talk to us. I met with some of the teachers, as did the other two chaplains. He was very close to several of them. As a school staff, we came together to support each other, and to be able to support our students.

How has the school been changed by this loss?
This tragedy has brought us all together, having Jesus in the midst of us all. This situation has led us to grow and to come together in two realities, our union with God but also our support of each other, our accompanying each other, our service to each other.

What would you like to tell  people outside of the school community?
We appreciate their support and prayers because, during this time, we have received so many emails, so many phone calls, from across San Diego and beyond, expressing their sorrow, their compassion for us for what happened. I would like to express my gratitude for being so close to us at this very difficult moment.

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