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#3092: A prayer answered (fwd)
Published: Wednesday, March 29, 2000___PIONEER PLANET
A prayer answered: Four years ago, Sister Andrea Lee became the foster
mother of a Haitian orphan. On Tuesday Lee, the president of the
College of St. Catherine, formally adopted him as her son.
By MAJA BECKSTROM STAFF WRITER
Sister Andrea Lee will never become mother superior. But she may well
be a superior mother. On Tuesday, the president of the College of St.
Catherine in St. Paul formally adopted the teen-age boy she has cared
for as a foster son for four years. Just how did a nun and an orphan
from Haiti become mother and child?`It is unusual,'' Lee conceded.
``But it's just one of those things that happened. I'm a big believer
that when grace lands in your lap, you accept it.'' Lahrens (pronounced
lions) Lee-St. Fleur came into Lee's life when he performed with a dance
troupe from a Haitian orphanage at Marygrove College in Detroit, where
she was vice president. During a medical check of the children, doctors
discovered that he had a serious heart problem. He returned to Haiti,
and Lee battled to get him back into the United States for treatment,
finally enlisting the help of a congressman. Lee-St. Fleur arrived in
1996 when he was 11, ``so small I could carry him,'' recalled Lee.
Neither of them thought then that the arrangement would be permanent.
He first called her ``Sister Andrea.'' That gave way to ``Andrea.'' Then
he began referring to her as ``his mother.''Finally, he called her
mother to her face.`It became apparent to us that he needed and deserved
a permanent and secure home, and I'm providing it for him,'' said
Lee. ``He's a great kid.'' Fifteen minutes before their scheduled
adoption hearing, St. Fleur and Lee stood in the hallway outside the
courtroom of Ramsey County Judge Mary Louise Klas, a criminal court
judge who offered to oversee the adoption proceeding because she is a
graduate of the College of St. Catherine. Three other county
judges and St. Kate's alumnae -- Paulette Flynn, Kathleen Gearin
and Margaret Marrinan -- were there to see the president of their
alma mater become a mom. ``I just can't get away from them,'' said St.
Fleur with a smile. The proceeding was brief. At the end, Klas
announced ``said child is adopted by the petitioner.'' And at those
innocuous words, St. Fleur bowed his head to the room in a mock salute
and grinned. There were photos taken, hugs exchanged and a gift of a
blank journal thrust into Lee-St. Fleur's hands. ``How do you do, Mr.
Lee-St. Fleur, for the first time,'' said a beaming Judge Kathleen
Guerin, shaking his hand and referring to the boy by the new last name
that he and Lee agreed he would assume. But of course, Lee has been
acting like Lee-St. Fleur's mother long before Tuesday. She goes to his
track meets and soccer matches at Cretin-Derham Hall, where she said she
gets more attention for being the college president than for being a
nun. Her assistant writes parent-teacher conferences into her schedule,
just like any other meetings.`I say, `This is a priority. Make it fit,'
'' said Lee. She is also teaching the 15-year-old to drive. ``It's kind
of crazy,'' said Lee-St. Fleur. ``The first time we went on the
highway, she's saying `Stay in your lane! Stay in your lane!' ''
They argue over whether he can listen to rap music. He likes the
beat. She says it demeans women. She prods him to do his homework,
sometimes rousing him at 5 a.m. to finish an assignment. `She is a good
mom. She pushes me to do something and that kind of a person is a good
person,'' he said.
Still, of course, there is the fact that he is being raised by, well, a
nun. He said his friends at school all know about it, and it's no
bigdeal. In fact, a sophomore at the school, Justin Trupe, is the
adopted son of Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet Patricia Schoonover.
`It's not unheard of,'' said Sister Camille D'Arienzo, past president
of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which includes leaders
of the nation's women religious orders. D'Arienzo listed examples of
several sisters who had adopted children, including a sister in Albany,
N.Y., who adopted a girl with AIDS in 1990 and who is featured in the
April issue of Reader's Digest. But being around so many women is
sometimes strange.``It's hard,'' said Lee-St. Fleur in a theatrical
wail. ``It's really hard. When I was in Haiti, it was all boys, an all
boys house. I come here, and it's all girls. I tell them, `It's not fair
for me to be the only boy!' '' He is close to Lee's six brothers. And,
Lee tries to make their home life as normal as possible. They live with
Sister Elizabeth Larson, a retired sociology professor and have golden
Labrador named Farmer and two cats. Lee and Lee-St. Fleur planned to
celebrate their new bond with a dinner Tuesday and a big reception in
April for friends. In the meantime, they will join a time-honored
tradition this Saturday at Cretin-Derham Hall -- going to the annual