When it was time for three homeless veterans to be laid to rest, with no loved ones to serve as pallbearers, six Detroit high school students stepped forward, setting up a program similar to one they learned about in Cleveland.
As ABC News reports, the volunteers from the University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy “rode together to the funeral, carried the casket to the grave and prayed together afterward” for each of the unclaimed veterans. They were apprehensive at first, but ultimately grateful for the experience, which gave them a chance to witness the funeral customs from the Army, Air Force, and Marines.
Funeral home director Terry Desmond said the pallbearer program “says a lot about the school and the young men who attend there.” (The university is an all-male prep school.)
“Their service to the less fortunate honors the dignity of individuals who are mostly out-of-the-view of our society,” added Desmond. He explained that normally staffers from the funeral home serve as pallbearers at services for the homeless, after the county spends 90 days attempting to locate family members.
The Associated Press reports that the students named their program after Joseph of Arimathea, “the wealthy biblical figure many Christians see as the most important pallbearer in history, having cared for Jesus Christ’s body after his crucifixion.” The Detroit program already has 50 volunteers signed up.
The program used by the University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy as a model, the St. Joseph of Arimathea Pallbearer Society at St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland, was established in 2002, and has its own Facebook page. It has over 300 members, who have served at more than 500 funerals.
The Facebook page for the University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy, which prominently features posts about the establishment of its pallbearer program, can be found here.
“To watch them develop this program and to give so generously of their time and talent is impressive,” said faculty member Todd Wilson, leader of the Detroit university’s Ignatian Service Corps. “They believe that, through being a pallbearer at the funerals of veterans, the homeless, the socially poor and others, they are… offering a final tribute to a person’s life journey.”
The words of the volunteers themselves were deeply moving and uplifting.
“Many people outlive their families or don’t have any one to be with them at their funeral. We strongly felt that everyone deserved the dignity of having people present at their last moments,” said volunteer pallbearer Leonard Froehlich, a 12th-grade student.
“We kind of represent the family that is not here to be with them. And that is, I think, a privilege,” Froehlich declared.
“This was an opportunity to give something to somebody who finished their life on the fringe of society,” senior Tom Lennon told Today News. “These veterans were men I have never met, but they helped make the country I live in safer and stronger. No matter who they were or what they did on earth, every person deserves a proper burial.”
“During the funerals, while listening to the eulogies, I heard a particular statement that I feel was very important. ‘While you didn’t know him by name or sight, we are all here today to recognize his service to our country,'” said another senior, Nick Benedetto. “I realized that none of us present knew anything about the deceased. However, we were all there to pay them respect for serving our country. After that, I felt a sense of peace and was thankful that I was able to be a part of the services.”
“I was glad and truly honored to have experienced and served those veterans who sacrificed their lives for our country,” said student Joshua Gonzalez. “Being their pallbearer was just a little something that I could do to repay them for what they did for all of us.”
The most wonderful aspect of dignity is that it’s received in the same moment it is given. One can easily hear each veteran making his final journey with these students saying, The honor is mine.