Catholic School Students Band Together to Lift Spirits of Classmate Who Lost Family Members to COVID

Tags: Currents Brooklyn, NY, Catholic Education, Coronavirus, Crux, Education, Faith, Family, Inspiration, Queens, NY, Young Catholics, Youth

By Jessica Easthope

Johnathan Zuluaga thought he was coming back to school at Our Lady of Sorrows to watch a talent show, but it was all part of a surprise plan: a brand new puppy for him, a mini labradoodle and Johnathan’s new best friend.

“My old dog passed away,” said Johnathan. “I didn’t have a pet and I was really lonely, so it’s really nice to have him here and take him home with me today.” 

 Opting to do virtual learning, Johnathan hadn’t been back to his 8th grade class in months. His chair and his sadness were front and center. The pandemic took his dad and grandmother from him and most recently, he lost the dog who was his best friend.

“It’s because of their effort that he’s here,” he said, “so I really thank them and appreciate it.” 

For months, students, parents and teachers at Our Lady of Sorrows raised money hoping to bring a little happiness back into Johnathan’s life after so much loss. 

But the surprise wasn’t only for Johnathan.

“We just said, ‘Hey, we have a student in need, never mentioned a name,’” said Principal Cristina Tancredi-Cruz. “We just said we’re going to raise money to make someone feel good.” 

The kids got to work, waking up early every day to sell coffee and donuts at school. They raised more than $2,000 dollars never knowing who it was for.

“It just shows all the effort you put in to making them a better person,” said teacher Lisset Condo. “It just shows that it’s working. It’s paying off.” 

Principal Cristina had a simple question.

“What would Jesus do?” she asked. “This is exactly what He would want us to do. This is what Catholic school is all about. It’s about paying it forward and asking for nothing in return. That’s exactly what our students did.”  

But that’s not exactly right –  the students did want something in return.

“I want to see him smile,” said two of Johnathan’s classmates, Dandy Naranjo and Juely Duran. “I don’t want to see him sad or be in that hole. I just want to see him smile.”

It’s a smile you can see even through his mask. And as for his new puppy, well he seemed happy too!

Johnathan’s mom Ysabel says lately, her son has been a shell of the fun-loving kid he is, but now she can breathe a sigh of relief.  

“The important thing in this is that he feels that God is good,” Ysabel said. “Not everything is lost and not everything is bad.” 

Johnathan doesn’t know what he wants to name his new puppy yet, but what he does know is that his new addition is the start of a new, happy chapter.

 “It’s a special moment of happiness after six, nine months of sadness and worries,” Ysabel said. “I see him happy and hope comes back.” 

 Hope came back all because of a kind gesture. Now, the Zuluaga family is bringing hope home.