St. John’s Prep to host virtual event to create Day of the Dead altar

When Benedictine Brother Lucian Lopez was young, his father would bring sugar skulls back from Mexico — where his father was from — during the month of October for a special celebration of loved ones who had passed away.

“El Dia de Los Muertos,” or “Day of the Dead,” is a holiday celebrated from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2 by people in Mexico and of Mexican heritage around the world.

Beautiful altars called “ofrendas” are created for the celebration using photos and items beloved by “Los Muertos,” family and friends now among the dead.

“He explained to me that Mexicans will put the name of a deceased loved one on the skull and place it on the altar along with a loved one’s favorite food or objects that they loved while they were alive,” said Brother Lucian, a member of St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville.

To participate in the virtual event:
Altar De Muertos
October 24, 9:30 a.m.
Click on this link: or visit: and click on the link in red.

Catholics celebrate All Souls Day to pray for and remember deceased loved ones, he said. Rather than being a sad occasion, creating a colorful altar adds a layer of fun, humor and celebration to that remembrance.

“After my father died when I was 13, setting up an “ofrenda” each year became a great source of comfort for me, as well as a way to connect with friends and family who had also lost someone,” he said.

On Saturday, Oct. 24, Brother Lucian and Benedictine Father Efrain Rosado Casanova will create an altar in the lobby of St. John’s Preparatory School in Collegeville, honoring the beloved dead of the community.

“Every year we set up an ‘ofrenda’ in the monastery corridor and invite people to add photos or mementos of their loved ones,” Brother Lucian said. “In addition to the continuously changing restrictions due to COVID-19, our monastery is under construction. So, this year we decided to set up the ‘ofrenda’ at St. John’s Prep and invite the Prep community to participate.”

The public is invited to join them virtually to learn about the traditions and celebrations of “El Dia de Los Muertos.” The importance of the altars will be explained, and photos will be displayed of deceased members of the Prep community. The public is encouraged to submit photos and names of loved ones to include in the display.

Benedictine Brother Felix Mencias at last year’s altar at St. John’s Abbey.

“One thing people may not know is that the altar is supposed to be fun and organic,” Brother Lucian said. “The point is to touch things, move them around, add things — all with a sense of reverence for what other people have placed there, but also with whimsy.” 

Brother Lucian said he also believes it is important to emphasize that, as cathartic and therapeutic it is to set up an altar, it’s just as important to take it down when it is time.

“There is a designated time to grieve and remember, and there is a time give our dead loved ones well-deserved peace,” he said.

To submit a name and photo to be included: Email photos and names of loved ones to Brother Lucian to include in the display. His address is: LLOPEZ@CSBSJU.EDU

Author: Dianne Towalski

Dianne Towalski is a multimedia reporter for The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine.

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