BELLEVUE – Shortly after learning that her newborn granddaughter was expected to survive only a few hours, Jeanne Morrison received her first “prayer angel” from students at St. Louise School.
Since then, baby Olivia — born with no bladder and just one kidney — has survived numerous surgeries and grown into a teenager. The St. Louise students, Morrison said, have “prayed her up to 18 years” old.
For 20 years, seventh- and eighth-grade students in Mary Herridge’s religion class at St. Louise have participated in the Prayer Angels program, crafting, signing and sending paper angels to those in need of prayers.
“It’s letting us send our guardian angels to other people. It lets us share our faith,” said Evie Aitken, a eighth-grader who made a prayer angel last September for her grandfather, who was having surgery. The angel was taped above his hospital bed while he recovered.
The angels are proof that someone is praying for people in need, said eighth-grader Ellie Charles: “St. Louise will always be with them.”
Nicholas Scrimshaw, Jenna Wilken and Adara Martinez, students at St. Louise School in Bellevue, work on prayer angels that will be given to those requesting prayers from the junior high religion class. Photo: Amy Wilken
Inspired by guardian angels
Herridge said she began Prayer Angels the day after reading a February 28, 1999, item about guardian angels that was written by Father William Treacy and published in The Catholic Northwest Progress newspaper (predecessor to Northwest Catholic).
“It’s OK to send our angels to be there for someone who’s in greater need,” Herridge said. “Twenty years later, we are still making angels.”
Each angel is personalized, based on a student’s vision of what an angel looks like; some angels may have specific themes, depending on the prayer request.
“Every single one of them is endearing because it’s from a junior high student,” Herridge said. “It’s just touched so many hearts.”
Most angel requests come through students, she said, but former students and teachers have also made requests for friends or loved ones to receive prayer angels. Other angels have been given to confirmation candidates at St. Louise, to Father Gary Zender when he became pastor of the Bellevue parish and to families at funerals when the school’s honor guard participates.
Colleen Hauck, left, Father William Treacy, religion teacher Mary Herridge, Jeanne Morrison and Lisa Desimone gather at an event celebrating 20 years of the Prayer Angels program at St. Louise School in Bellevue. Hauck, Morrison and Desimone are among those who have received prayer angels from the school’s junior high religion class. Photo: Amy Wilken
‘Grounded in the needs of others’
The name of each person receiving a prayer angel is put on a bulletin board in the religion classroom. When the board is full, the names go into a binder; students are starting on the program’s sixth binder.
Each day during prayer time, students review several names in one of the binders. Herridge provides the class some background about the day’s names, along with any updates.
“It’s a way for us to learn about our community,” Charles said.
And, Herridge said, “it helps students stay grounded in the needs of others.”
The program’s 20th year was celebrated January 23, sort of an early start to Catholic Schools Week (January 27 to February 2), according to Herridge. Father Treacy was a special guest, along with people whose lives have been helped by the students’ prayer angels.
Prayer Angels is “a wonderful education for the children,” said Father Treacy, who has been a priest for 75 years and turns 100 in May. “It educates them on compassion” and how to take action, he added.
Six years ago, the action taken by St. Louise students again helped the family of Morrison, a former St. Louise teacher. Her husband, Mike, received a prayer angel after his diagnosis of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Through chemotherapy and beyond, his prayer angel has remained affixed to the couple’s bathroom mirror; Mike recently marked five years of being cancer-free.
The “power of prayer” experienced through the Prayer Angels program has “really meant a lot to a whole lot of families,” Morrison said.
Catholic Schools Week
During the 45th annual National Catholic Schools Week, January 27 to February 2, the 100 Catholic schools in Washington state will celebrate with special Masses, community service projects, open houses and other events.
Students and staff from many schools will also travel to a special Catholic Schools Day in Olympia on January 30 to meet with key legislators and other state officials, including Chris Reykdal, superintendent of public instruction.
Acting as advocates on behalf of all Catholic schools, students will learn how to respectfully participate in the lawmaking process and make their voices heard on public policy proposals.
Students will be able to attend a hearing before the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Committee regarding Senate bills 5317 and 5514, which seek to create stronger support systems and protocol to increase school safety and student well-being.
Across Washington state, there are 100 Catholic elementary and high schools with 2,006 teachers and 28,137 students. That makes Catholic schools in Washington comparable in size to the state’s fifth-largest public school district.