The 7th-grade class at St. Mary of the Hills School in Milton is pictured in June with the tree they planted in honor of Thelma Lake who passed away from cancer in 2016. Pilot photo/courtesy St. Mary of the Hills School
MILTON -- Sharing prayer requests is a routine part of Alexia Etienne's 5th-grade religion class at St. Mary of the Hills School. In 2016, she shared some sad news: a friend of hers, Thelma Lake, was suffering from terminal cancer.
"Usually, if anyone is sick in the class, as an extension of our religion class, I'll have them make cards for whoever the person is, when it's a family friend or anyone in the community," Etienne said. "So when they heard that I had a friend who was sick, they suggested that we make cards for her as well."
The class sent cards to Lake in May 2016. She passed away the following month. But two years later, Etienne and her students heard from Lake's husband, Neville Lake. He had come across their cards while going through his late wife's belongings, and wrote to tell the students what the cards had meant to her.
"They really appreciated it, and at that time she was happy to have received the cards," Etienne said. "They read the letters to her right before she passed, so these were some of the last memories she had."
Neville Lake sent the cards back to Etienne along with a letter of thanks addressed to her students, who by that time were in 7th grade at St. Mary of the Hills. Etienne read the letter to them and gave back the cards they had made. "We opened them up and they said, 'Oh, I did that.' They could see what they did two years ago," Etienne said. "It was an emotional time."
Along with the letter and cards, Neville Lake also sent the students a donation to the class. They decided to use the money to do something in honor of Thelma Lake, and came up with the idea of planting a tree on their school grounds.
Father Eric Bennett, the new pastor of the Milton Collaborative of St. Elizabeth and St. Mary of the Hills Parishes, helped Etienne and her former students plant the tree on June 13, during the last week of the school year. After the tree was planted, he blessed it with holy water.
"Moments like those, where the students think of others, make teaching in a Catholic school special," Etienne said. "It was a blessing to see the spiritual aspect of the school's mission in action, and a perfect example of paying it forward when we were least expecting it."