Friday, February 16, 2018
Ana Rodriguez Soto - Florida Catholic newspaper
This story has been updated with the funeral arrangements, and a video of his funeral service prepared by Araceli Cantero, formerly of La Voz Católica.
FORT LAUDERDALE | It’s been a difficult week for students and staff at Cardinal Gibbons High School.
On Thursday, the school held a prayer service for those killed and injured the day before in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
“We’re competitive in terms of athletics,” explained Gibbons’ principal, Paul Ott. Many Gibbons students also play on club teams with students from Douglas or know them from elementary school. “So we had a lot of hurting kids here.”
Friday morning, Ott gathered his students and staff once again for another prayer service: Piarist Father Oscar Alonso, who taught theology to Gibbons’ seniors, had died earlier that morning. He had taught at the school for 39 years.
Father Alonso would have turned 78 this weekend and was a day away from marking 50 years of priesthood. He had just completed 60 years in religious life.
“He was a very popular priest here at Cardinal Gibbons,” said Ott. “He was very gregarious. He would tell the kids that he was a goofy old man. And he would tell them to be nice to the goofy old man. He called his students his ‘chicas’ or ‘chicos’ (Spanish for guys or gals). He was very friendly. He was very outgoing. And he’s been a senior theology teacher probably since he came here.”
Father Alonso also celebrated Mass at the junior ring ceremony, the Mass for seniors, and many of the all-school Masses.
Ott is a Gibbons graduate who returned to his alma mater as a teacher after college. When Father Alonso arrived at Gibbons, Ott was already teaching there.
“He had always said that he wanted to die teaching or in his sleep, and he did both,” said Ott. “He taught yesterday and went to bed and died in his sleep.”
Father Alonso was in good health, according to his fellow Piarist, Father John Callan, who also teaches at Gibbons. He had celebrated Mass, prayed the Stations of the Cross, then “just died very peaceful in his sleep.”
Father Callan had been Father Alonso’s student.
“Father taught me in high school when I was a student in Pennsylvania for four years,” Father Callan said. He also oversaw his first two years in the order. They worked together at Gibbons since 1994, and before that during Father Alonso’s last year at the Pennsylvania high school where he taught before coming to South Florida.
“He was like my mentor teacher,” Father Callan said. “He preached at my first Mass and he preached at my 25th anniversary.”
Born in Madrid de las Caderechas, in the province of Burgos, Spain, Feb. 20, 1940, Father Alonso entered the Piarists’ formation house in Villacarriedo and later in Getafe, where he finished high school. He entered the novitiate Aug. 14, 1957 and made his first profession Aug. 15, 1958.
He continued his studies in Spain until the Piarist Fathers’ Castilian Province assigned him to the United States. He arrived in January 1966 and resided at the Piarists’ House of Studies in Washington, D.C. There, his Master of Juniors was Father Mario Vizcaino, a retired Piarist priest well-known in Miami because of his longtime leadership of the Southeast Regional Office for Hispanics and the Southeast Pastoral Institute (SEPI).
Father Alonso completed his theological studies by obtaining a master’s degree from the Catholic University of America. He was ordained a priest in the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception Feb. 17, 1968 and assigned to the Piarist community in Devon, Pa. He taught Spanish and theology at Devon Prep from 1968 to 1979.
In the meantime, he continued to study, obtaining a master’s degree in Spanish literature and another in library science from Villanova University in Philadelphia. In addition to serving as vocations director for the Piarist Province while in Philadelphia, he was appointed superior of the South Florida community in 2003.
“His weekends were very busy. It wasn’t uncommon for him to have on Saturday morning a funeral, a wedding and a baptism,” said Father Callan.
Father Alonso also kept busy during summers by going on missions with the Piarists in the parish of Macuspana in Tabasco, Mexico.
“He put his soul into his ministry among the people of the rancherias,” Father Callan wrote in an obituary he sent to his fellow Piarists. “He not only financially supported some construction projects (chapels), but also more importantly trained lay leaders in the local communities and lay volunteer missionaries from the United States. For many years, he also promoted a Bible program by offering Bibles to farmers at a very very low cost.”
And he taught adults in South Florida: classes at SEPI for those studying for their master’s in Hispanic ministry, and Bible courses for those studying for the permanent deaconate in the Archdiocese of Miami.
“He’s an excellent example of selfless service to his Church and to education,” said Ott.
Funeral services will take place Saturday, Feb. 24, with a viewing from 12:15 to 1:30 p.m. followed by a Mass of Christian Burial at 1:30 p.m., all at St. Paul the Apostle Church, 2700 N.E. 36 St., Lighthouse Point. He will be buried in his native Burgos, Spain.
In lieu of flowers, the Piarist Fathers are asking that donations in Father Alonso’s name be made to the Piarist Seminarian or Retirement Funds, P.O. Box 11822, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33339.