By Erin Hallissy

Sal Ortiz endured tragedy during high school. His older sister, Jessica ’99, MFT ’02, who
pushed for an Our Lady of Guadalupe shrine in the Chapel, died in a car accident in early 2003 at age 25. His mother, Lupe, died two days before Christmas 2004. It was tough for him, his sister Lizette ’05 and their father, Sal Sr., to carry on.

But Ortiz found something at Saint Mary’s that he doesn’t think he would have found at
bigger schools that he considered attending.

“Here, the emphasis is on community — the strength of many and the power of one,” he says. “You need to build relationships and find partners to help you succeed.”

So far, the 19-year-old junior has found a great deal of success. He was sophomore class senator, is on the Academic Honor Council and was a two-year Bonner Leader through the Catholic Institute for Lasallian Social Action. He did 900 hours of community work at De Marillac Academy in San Francisco, the LEO Center in Oakland and summer camps. “I need to get the most out of my experience at College,” he explains.

Jennifer Pigza, CILSA’s associate director, says the deaths of his sister and mother may contribute to Ortiz’s drive, but it may just be part of his upbeat personality. “He’s got a big heart. He’s very affable.”

His personality helped him win the Genevieve Grace Owens scholarship, named for a
1994 graduate who died of cancer in 2000 and awarded to a student based on traits such as character, love of life and a positive outlook. Ortiz, an English major who is taking the law school admissions test in February, says he’s now trying to focus more on schoolwork and less on community service. He wants to get a good career to help his father, a longtime groundskeeper for the Winters Joint Unified School District. Says Dad, “I’m very proud of him.”

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