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Rams community mourns loss of teacher, supporter of high school athletics, friend

The Central Catholic community and high school sports lost a beloved institution, supporter, personality, mentor and friend with the death last weekend of Sister Jerome Zerr.

She was a fixture at Rams sporting events, often scoring games, ever since her arrival at the Southeast Portland school in 1977.

During her career, she served as an athletic department secretary and assistant athletic director since 1984, and taught religion and English.

"We are witnessing the passing of a Central Catholic legend," Principal John Garrow said.SISTER JEROME ZERR

Reaction was swift and deep from Rams of all ages.

"I am terribly heartbroken by the news," said former Central Catholic standout Cameron Scarlett, a sophomore running back at Stanford. "My favorite memory of her was coming back from college and sitting down with her and talking. She really cared about my well-being and progress as a student, not only while I was in high school but even when I was in college.

"She was the most caring person I think I've ever met."

The school, which did not release a cause of death, has scheduled a memorial mass for 10 a.m. Monday at Chiles Center.

"She will really be missed," said the Rams' veteran volleyball coach, Rick Lorenz. "Her heart was just too weak."

She was known for greeting students at the start and end of every school day from a chair outside her office near the Central Catholic gymnasium.

"I remember sitting with her every morning from 7:30 to 8, and watching the kids coming and going," Lorenz says. "We were always talking about something. We would catch up on baseball, since that was her favorite sport. She was a real trouper and a true one of a kind.

"My favorite quote of hers was, 'I gave my heart and soul to Jesus at a very young age. and he hasn't come calling since.' Now she got called upon (to a better place)."

A former star quarterback at Central Catholic, Ryan Gunderson, expressed his sadness from Lincoln, Nebraska, where he is director of player personnel for the Cornhuskers football team.

"You just remember how people make you feel, and Sister Jerome always made you feel confident, made you feel loved, and always had your back," Gunderson said. "It's pretty fitting that she was the first person you saw when you walked into the high school through the sports entrance. 

"When I was at Oregon State, I always told our coaches that when they went by CC to just find Sister Jerome and she'll let you know everything you need to know about the kid (being recruited). Every coach that went through there knew Sister Jerome."

Sister Jerome, who was 72, grew up in Southeast Portland and received her bachelor of arts degree from Mt. Angel College, then did graduate work at Portland State and the University of Portland. She became a member of the Central Catholic Sports Hall of Fame in 2010.

She wrote on her Central Catholic staff bio that "the most enjoyable part of my experience over the years has been watching the students grow and mature into young men and women."

A former Central Catholic baseball standout, TJ Millspaugh, said Sister Jerome "changed my life for the three years I was there. If it wasn't for her helping me along, I wouldn't have been successful at Central."

The CC baseball team has dedicated the rest of its season to her and written "SJ" on its hats. After being given the news on Saturday, the Rams beat Gresham, 7-0.

Rams football coach Steve Pyne said Monday was a "real tough day" for everyone at the school.

"I always went to her office to talk about everything. I'll miss the day-to-day conversations," he said. "She was such a shining star ... stunning woman. She was an example of everything right. She had unconditional love. Not enough words to describe her. Just an awesome lady."

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