John Carroll comes together for student's death

John Carroll 10th grader Xavia Pirozzi, who died Wednesday after a six-month battle with lymphoma, was remembered by fellow students at the school on Thursday. (Photo courtesy John Carroll, Patuxent Homestead / March 22, 2012)

The last few days at The John Carroll School have been somber and reflective, a rare break from the norm.

Students walked through the halls in purple ties, shirts, shoes or necklaces. The school chapel featured a glass cross filled with multicolored scraps of paper and an altar covered in candles.

It was all in honor of Xavia Pirozzi, a 10th grader who died Wednesday after just a six-month battle with lymphoma.

The 15-year-old Fallston resident was diagnosed with the cancer last summer, apparently as a side effect of drugs she had taken after receiving a heart transplant in elementary school, John Carroll Principal Madelyn Ball said.

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Despite spending her time at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia since November, Xavia remained an honor student and refused to let illness stop her, becoming an inspiration to many who knew her.

"She was a marvelous, marvelous student and was still working on her schoolwork until recently," Ball said. "She is my hero. She has touched a lot of lives."

The last student death at The John Carroll School, on Route 22 in Bel Air, was about 18 years ago, Campus Minister Patti Murphy Dohn said.

Xavia discontinued her treatment and came home Sunday. After learning of her death, school officials held a special Mass Wednesday, led by the Rev. Stephen Sutton and Deacon Tim Maloney.

Dohn said so many students wanted to take part in the procession that the altar was soon covered in candles.

"Usually we have only two [candles] in regular Masses, but we had a huge line of kids who wanted to be involved in it," Dohn said.

Ball said: "We truly prayed her into heaven... If you can ever imagine 700 kids together and you could hear a pin drop, it was like that."

Then the students decided to wear purple on Thursday.

"Purple was her favorite color," Ball said. "The kids wanted to do it and requested it [Wednesday], and we immediately said yes."

The school received a pastoral care cross from the Archdiocese of Baltimore that was dedicated 10 years ago and travels to schools and parishes where a young person has died.

The large glass cross was packed with notes and colorful pieces of paper from the student body, with different colors representing different feelings.

The candle lighting ritual was followed by Eucharistic adoration, or silent prayer, throughout the day. A large banner with student messages had been wrapped around the gym. Chains of origami paper cranes, which represent hope for healing and which had also been made earlier, had been strung above the altar for Wednesday's Mass.

Dohn said the outpouring of support for Xavia and her family was befitting of the John Carroll community.

"That's what's nice about a Catholic school. We can stop, we can pray," she said.

Fourteen-year-old Emily Meyerl, whose family had led the paper crane project, was tearful as she remembered Xavia.

"She had a quiet personality, but even if you saw her in the hall, she made an impression because she was different," Emily said.