Teens at Catholic Memorial College Preparatory School in Boston are doing something special to honor homeless veterans. The school’s president, Dr. Peter Folan, began an initiative to host funeral processions for veterans who die without family or friends. He told TODAY.com:
“There’s something powerful about seeing a coffin in your school. The American flag right there, and when you see those two current servicemen fold the flag, play taps, and then hand that flag to the history teacher who was a Marine — that’s a full circle moment for a kid. We don’t necessarily understand the power of that symbolism. We need that more now than ever.”
Since 2017, numerous funerals have taken place in the school’s chapel and some have even been held in the gym in front of the entire 600-person student body.
“Kids begin to recognize that those are people who have sacrificed much and have displayed incredible courage, duty, and honor. And now in their final moments, for a whole host of reasons, some of which we don’t know enough about each individual, they are alone — and we’re here to stand with them and bring them into our community. That has a transformational impact on a 15- or 16- year-old young man.”
Students take on many roles during the funerals, from being pallbearers to reading scripture.
Sometimes the student volunteers physically carry the coffin, and other times they serve as “honor guards” who pray or read scripture during the ceremony. Folan says that the initiative aims to create “intricate linkages between the head and the heart.” He adds:
“When we as a school come together to talk about and bury someone who has died without family and friends, that leads to work informing, forming, and then ultimately transforming those students through that experience.”
Additional schools host similar programs to honor deceased veterans.
The University of Detroit Jesuit School, a Michigan high school, also has a Pallbearer Ministry where students take time out of their day to support a ceremony for veterans who would otherwise be buried alone. This program began in 2015 when six senior students volunteered to help bury three unclaimed veterans at Great Lakes National Cemetery.
Richard Mazyck, campus ministry and service coordinator for the school said:
“It’s really extraordinary to take note of someone who was left to die in the cold on the street. They have no family and friends that anyone is able to contact … It’s a reminder that every person, especially in the Christian religious tradition, is made in the image of God and is deserving of a particular regard and respect.”
“We might even very strongly disagree at various times, but everybody has worth and value. Assisting at their funeral, or at their committal and burial, is a way of honoring their lives, even though we may have never met them.”
In 2015, former student Tom Lennon told TODAY that volunteering for this service was a way to “give something to somebody who finished their life on the fringe of society,” adding:
“These veterans were men I had 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.“
The video below shows seven Catholic Memorial School students honoring Air Force Veteran Markham Lyons at his funeral.