Paul VI senior dies

First slide

Michael Santiago, a senior at Paul VI Catholic High School and a parishioner of St. Leo the Great Parish, both in Fairfax, died Thursday morning at Mary Washington Hospital in Fredericksburg after collapsing during a rugby game Sunday. According to Father J.D. Jaffe, Paul VI chaplain and assistant principal, Santiago's collapse was due to an unknown "pre-existing injury or condition," not one incurred on the rugby field. After days on life support, the 17-year-old was pronounced dead at 11:15 a.m. Thursday in the presence of his parents, Carlos and Melinda, and sister, Anna.

"Michael was surrounded by his family and he now rests at peace with God," said Ginny Colwell, principal, in an e-mail to the Paul VI community.

At Paul VI, Santiago was a member of the French club and the junior math league, and he was a manager of the soccer team. He was one month away from his senior prom and less than two months away from graduation. Before attending Paul VI, Santiago was a student at St. James School in Falls Church and St. Leo the Great School.

A statement from the school said that even in the midst of tragedy, Santiago's Catholic faith continues to shine.

"As disciples of Christ we are called to be like Him who suffered and died so that others may have life," the statement reads. "Michael is an organ donor and his parents honor their son by respecting his wishes. Even in the tragedy of death, Michael will be giving the gift of life. In giving of himself, others may live. In honor of Michael's selfless gift, we invite you if you have not already done so, to consider becoming an organ donor."

One day after Santiago's death, an "R.I.P. Michael Santiago" Facebook page had 1,284 followers (and climbing). A multitude of posts fill the space, especially from fellow students like Angela London.

"Dear Michael, you did something amazing today," she wrote Thursday night. "You brought together our class and inspired us to set aside our issues and drama to have a great final month of school. You lived life like every day was your last, always smiling, telling stupid jokes, and stories … . In honor of you, we are gonna live it up, party harder, love more, and always remember how you loved life. So thank you."

Father Jaffe, who had known Santiago in life, was with the family during much of the few days that led up to his death.

"He was a joyful young man," Father Jaffe said. "He was a very loyal friend. He had a group of very close friends that he would do anything for. He brought a sense of joy and happiness to whatever he got involved in."

The funeral Mass is scheduled for Friday, April 15, at St. Leo the Great Church in Fairfax, at 1:30 p.m.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2011