Hancock County

Our Lady Academy says goodbye to 250-year-old oak

COURTESY OUR LADY ACADEMYOur Lady Academy's Laura Grace Ritten, left, Abby Koons, Alia Tayara, Candi Gordon, Sydney Wittmann and Mathilde Gagnet encircle the once-mighty oak in front of the school.
COURTESY OUR LADY ACADEMYOur Lady Academy's Laura Grace Ritten, left, Abby Koons, Alia Tayara, Candi Gordon, Sydney Wittmann and Mathilde Gagnet encircle the once-mighty oak in front of the school.

To many, it was just a tree. But to the students and instructors at Our Lady Academy in Bay St. Louis, it was much, much more.

And now it's gone.

With roots deep under the earth, the tree told a story of perseverance, and in a way, represented the mission of the school.

"Many generations of women lived, laughed, cried, prayed and studied under its branches," said alumna Shannon Collins. "Just like our ties to OLA, the trees roots go deep."

The tree stood tall in the face of hurricanes and storms for an estimated 250 years, but it was a lightning strike that delivered the fatal blow.

It was struck March 11, and this time the damage was too great.

"When we came back from spring break, the tree was gone, but the light shone even brighter at Our Lady Academy," principal Darnell Cuevas said.

In 2014, it was registered as a historic tree.

It survived both hurricanes Elena and Katrina with the help of the school faculty, student Lauryn Kidd said in her own story documenting the occasion.

"It was stripped bare in both cases -- no Spanish moss, no leaves, just bare branches. It looked so pitiful!"

Former OLA president and principal Sister Jackie Howard called an arborist at Mississippi State University both times to come down and evaluate the tree. Unlike many other oaks in the area, it survived.

But after the lightning strike, half the tree fell away.

"After consulting many arborists, the decision to remove the tree was made in regard to the safety of the students and faculty members," Kidd wrote. "The tree had suffered not only external damages from the lightening but also internal damages from decaying after so many years."

Students held a prayer ceremony to honor and say goodbye to the tree.

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