By Seth Gonzales
The Texas Catholic
With his eyes intently focused on graduating from St. Monica Catholic School in May, then entering high school in August, 14-year-old José Lauro Moreno carries with him the memory of his mother and an ever-increasing sense of gratitude for his new home.
“At the time, I was really struggling to understand why God would allow my mom to die,” Moreno said. “I was still getting adjusted with my new family. I was just worried that I wouldn’t have any friends because I was going to a new school. I didn’t know anyone. I didn’t know any of the teachers. I had to kind of make myself new, I guess you could say.”
He was born on March 16, 1999 to Yolanda Moreno, a single mother who knew the moment would change her life forever. Soon after José’s birth, she was hired as a nanny by Candace Boyd, a veteran flight attendant with an adopted daughter, Mattie.
“I hired Yolanda when Mattie was 2 1/2 years old because I needed child care,” Boyd said. “She started working for me full time and would come 3-4 days per week. Usually I would be gone flying, so I wasn’t always home when she was there with my daughter Mattie and José, but Mattie and José became very close, like brother and sister.”
As time went on, the four of them practically became each other’s extended family. Each time Yolanda drove to work, José would often gladly come along for the ride. With each visit, his relationship with Mattie grew into something akin to a best friend and sibling.
“We grew a bond because I was in their lives most of the time,” Moreno said. “We would come here after I was done with school and really, I was here most of the time, except when I had to go to school. Mattie and I just hung out and we enjoyed it.”
The scene was a familiar one for nearly 10 years.
In 2010, Yolanda was diagnosed with Stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She was given 12 months to live, at most.
“I was really confused,” Moreno said. “I was asking God why he would let this happen to my mom.”
In her final month, Yolanda made a request of Boyd that she sensed was coming: taking legal custody of José, raising him Catholic, and giving him a Catholic education.
Yolanda had legal guardianship documents drawn up and processed while Candace immediately began her search for a school that met José’s needs.
With the help of Christina Domingo, a teacher at St. Monica Catholic School who shared a piano instructor with Mattie, Candace met with St. Monica administrators, including then-principal Patricia Dulac.
“When I heard José’s story, I had never met him, I didn’t know him personally yet, but something about his story really touched me and I felt that God was calling me to help this student,” Domingo said. “I always reach out to students like that and want to help students in those situations.”
St. Monica eventually accepted José into the sixth grade. Domingo volunteered to tutor José and get him caught up academically with his peers. When Yolanda heard the news, it was a relief.
Nine months after Yolanda died, Boyd was granted permanent legal guardianship of José.
In the nearly three years that have passed since that day, Boyd said, José has benefited tremendously from his education at St. Monica Catholic School.
“He has really blossomed there,” Boyd said. “He’s doing well and made lots of friends and thanks to some great tutors that he’s had, including Ms. Domingo, he is very happy there.”
For his part, José could not agree more.
“St. Monica is my home away from home,” Moreno said. “If my mom was here today, I would tell her that I’m fine and everything is going to be OK from now on. ‘You gave me the strength and courage to keep going on with my life and that really helped me. I’ve made great friends and I have the best family I could ever ask for. You don’t have to worry about me.’”