The newest ministry at Scranton Preparatory School in Pennsylvania reaches out to “the people on the margins, people kicked to the curb of society,” says president Jesuit Father Ryan Maher. The St. Joseph of Arimathea Funeral Ministry holds funerals for the forgotten.
The program was founded in the spirit of St. Joseph of Arimathea, who assisted with the burial of Jesus, in an effort to live out the Jesuit motto of being men and women for others. Scranton Prep’s ministry is based on similar programs at other Jesuit high schools, including Saint Ignatius High School in Cleveland. The program’s philosophy is that no one should die without being mourned or prayed for. The service also carries out a corporal work of mercy: bury the dead.
Students who take part in the program act as pallbearers, hold prayer services and offer scripture readings to those who are indigent or die alone. Last month, 30 students led by Fr. Maher, held the program’s first prayer service for 12 people whose remains were unclaimed from the Lackawana County coroner’s office.
Students only knew the names and death dates of the people whose cremated remains they placed solemnly on the altar with a rose. Faculty members joined in singing hymns and saying prayers as students acted as lectors for the service.
Fr. Maher, noticing some apprehension among the students, said, “Everyone take a deep breath. For the next 45 minutes, just be human. You are doing a basic good by remembering these people who died unremembered and unmourned. The Holy Spirit will meet us halfway.”
After the prayer service in the chapel, the remains were taken to St. Catherine’s Cemetery Mausoleum in Moscow, Pennsylvania, where space was donated by the Diocese of Scranton.
“These 12 people were called into life out of the love of God and they died alone and unremembered,” Fr. Maher said. “We know that is not right. We know that we are all connected ... We don’t know much about them, but we knew they were human, and like us, they lived lives of joy, sadness, suffering, pain, discord, triumph and defeat. We don’t know their faith, but it is with confidence and hope they understand that we do this out of respect for them.”
[Source: The Times Tribune]