Emotional Teacher-Student Reunion after Four Decades
In a moment of introspection after his mother’s passing, Andre Hayes began to wonder. His thoughts took him back four decades to 1969 in Los Angeles, California …
He stood at the door of his classroom. It was the first day of first grade at St. Paul the Apostle School. Across the way sat the church of the same name, and 6-year-old Andre watched as men unloaded his father’s casket from a hearse. A comforting hand rested on his shoulder. It was his teacher, Sister Andre Marie, CSC. Sister’s heart ached for the young boy, who surely could not quite understand what was going on.
She whispered in Andre’s ear. “You just stay here as long as you want.” The casket rolled into the church. The doors closed behind it. And still he stood.
In between the morning’s lessons, Sister joined the first-grader at the door. They said a prayer. In time, the mourners exited the church, and the casket was again placed in the hearse. Andre cried, “I want to go in the box with my father!” The tears began for both of them.
Decades later, while caring for his mother through her last six months of life, Andre had pondered that event in his long-ago youth. He recalled the kindness and compassion of his teacher and the feeling of peace that had settled on him when she touched his shoulder. Because he didn’t realize the significance of that moment until much later, Sister Andre Marie never knew how deeply her actions had touched him. Her example, along with the guidance of a beloved high school teacher, eventually compelled Andre to become a teacher himself. He wanted to make a difference in young lives, just as those two teachers had done for him.
Around 2013, Andre did find Sister Andre Marie, who by that time was known as Sister Mary Louise Deroin and was living in Idaho. They shared a delightful phone call, and Andre told her how much her kindness had meant to him. Sister Mary Louise was touched to know she had been a part of his decision to become a teacher.
Ten years later, Andre was still living in Los Angeles. In the midst of the pandemic, he had time on his hands and his thoughts once again wandered to that day in 1969. It was more than 50 years past first grade, but he wanted to see if he could again connect with Sister Mary Louise. Much to his surprise, Sister had retired and was living at the Congregation’s convent, Saint Catherine by the Sea, in Ventura, California—just 30 minutes from his home. They were soon on the phone again. And with pandemic restrictions easing, Sister Mary Louise invited Andre and his family to come to Saint Catherine’s for lunch on the day after Christmas. So, with his wife, her mother and two teenage sons, Andre arrived at Saint Catherine’s.
“She had a smile a mile wide,” he later said. “Her heart comes through in her smile, and her face was the same face I remember from first grade.” Andre was especially pleased to be able to introduce his children. “It was emotional for me because they don’t know their grandfather, and in a way she’s connected to him. She was a big part of that day. I’ve told them stories about her.”
He chuckled recalling one son’s typical teenage comment. “They were amazed that I bothered to keep in touch with her. One said, ‘Who does that? Who connects with their first-grade teacher?’” Andre laughed. “Maybe one day, they’ll appreciate it.”In the meantime, the appreciation and love between Andre and Sister Mary Louise is deep. Their hearts connected in one moment in 1969 and, they now realize, they always remained connected.
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