When a veteran without any family or friends passes away, it’s often up to the community to ensure that they receive a proper farewell. In Boston, one high school has taken on this meaningful responsibility since 2017.
Catholic Memorial, a college preparatory school, hosts military funerals for veterans without loved ones. The solemnity of these ceremonies leaves a lasting impact on both the participating students and the onlookers.
Dr. Peter Folan, the president of Catholic Memorial, spoke about the significance of these funerals. He shared, “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.”
The services typically take place in the school’s chapel, but at times, the gym is utilized to accommodate the 600 students. The students willingly volunteer for various roles, such as pallbearers or readers of scripture passages.
This initiative is not unique to Catholic Memorial. Richard Mazyck, who manages the Pallbearer Ministry at the University of Detroit Jesuit School, has been hosting funerals for veterans since October 2015. Tom Lennon, a former student, shared his perspective, saying, “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 impact of these funerals extends beyond the moment itself. Dr. Folan has observed a change of heart in the participating students. He explains, “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. That’s really why we’re doing it, is to make those intricate linkages between the head and the heart.”
This compassionate program is a testament to the values of Catholic Memorial and other schools that have followed suit. It serves as a reminder that honoring those who have served our country is not only a duty but also a privilege. May more schools take inspiration from this initiative and provide similar opportunities for their students to learn, grow, and pay tribute to veterans without family or friends.