Itzel Rosario can remember a time when she thought going to Mass was simply a cultural tradition, a way to conform to the surrounding society. “You went to church,” she said, “but you didn’t necessarily know what you were doing there.” However, ten years ago, led by her father, her family underwent a spiritual conversion that brought Itzel into a real relationship with God. Now, she knows, “Worshipping God is one of the most beautiful things a person can do.”
Itzel was born in western Mexico in 1999 into a family under pressure. Economic struggle sent her father to the U.S. for work while Itzel was still an infant, and her mother followed him later. By then, Itzel and her brother were living with their grandmother in central Mexico, awaiting the return of their parents. But as crime increased around them and their grandmother was threatened, the decision was made for the whole family to live together in the safety of Ocean City. Itzel was five and her brother was six. “We came to a totally different world,” she said. “We had to restart our lives, but we got used to it.”
By this time, however, the pressure had taken its toll on Itzel’s father, whose drinking caused problems for the family. “My grandmother asked my father to go to a Catholic retreat in New York,” Itzel recalled, “and from then on his life completely changed. God transformed his life. God transformed him into a role model for me.” He began sharing religious readings with the family, “which helped us all a lot,” she said, and they all began attending Mass together “with faith” every Sunday. “We have been getting closer and closer to the church,” she said.
Itzel graduated in 2017 from Ocean City High School and is beginning her last year at Cape Atlantic Community College. She will transfer to Stockton University to complete a four-year degree in accounting. Her plan is to go into business with her father, who owns his own construction company. He will fix up houses and she will sell them. Itzel already works part-time as a real estate agent for Berkshire Hathaway and also works as a front desk receptionist at the Flanders Hotel. In addition to accounting, Itzel has a gift for art, a gift she did not even know she had. “When I was in high school, I fell in love with art,” she explained. “It is one of the things I love to do the most.”
By her senior year, she was enrolled in an Advanced Placement art class. To her surprise, she won overall first place in her class art show after her teacher submitted her work on her behalf. “I didn’t even know I won until one of my friends congratulated me,” she laughed.
Itzel began serving St. Frances Cabrini church by playing guitar for one of the Hispanic Ministry choruses, after her brother taught her to play. As her work schedule began interfering with chorus practice, Father Al Diaz asked Itzel if she would be a Eucharistic minister. “It is something amazing,” she said of her role. “It is an honor to be serving God in that way.”
For now, Itzel literally counts her blessings, beginning with the salvation of her father. “I have seen so many of God’s miracles in my life that it is impossible to doubt how good He is,” she said. “He saved me from a place full of crime and brought me to a place where I can have a dream and be something. He has blessed me, healed me, and protected me. God gives all of us wisdom, strength, patience, and faith. I know that He has a plan for me.” Itzel’s favorite Scripture passage fittingly comes from Psalm 150: “Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp…. Let everything that breathes praise the Lord. Praise the Lord.”