RAYTOWN, Mo. – On an otherwise school day like any other, about a dozen high school students solemnly gathered for the most intimate final act of life at Mount Olivet Cemetery.
“This is a voluntary work, so it is up to the young men to forgo their day to come here and participate in one of the bodily works of mercy – which bury the dead,” said Paul Winkeler, teacher at Rockhurst High School. . in reference to the Society of Saint Joseph of Arimathea, which is taught in Jesuit schools across the country.
It was first adopted and last performed at Rockhurst High School over ten years ago, until last spring.
“When Jesus died, Joseph of Arimathea came forward and took his body and found a grave for him,” said Father Gary Menard, with Rockhurst.
This is how the company got its name.
With this in mind, in pairs, the young men serve as carriers. That day, they showed up to collect the unclaimed cremated remains of 120 people, after the county exhausted all efforts to locate their families and loved ones.
This is something Rockhurst junior Drew Franke found “hard to hear”.
“I know I couldn’t live this life on my own,” Franke said at the end of the ceremony.
“These guys are surrounded by love and support, but these people we buried today didn’t have that, at least not at the end of their lives,” Menard said.
Being involved in such a group can help give teens perspective.
“It’s important for boys to understand the seriousness of their own lives and how precious life is,” Winkeler said. “From there there is a transformation throughout the day. They enter the chapel to start their day on a regular basis every day. [way] to them and then when they leave they had an experience unlike any other in terms of what they really understand about life. “
Rockhurst senior and St. Joseph’s Society of Arimathea member Brenden Guzman said this could lead to difficult realities.
“It’s really hard to accept that there are people out there who maybe don’t feel as loved as others,” Guzman said. “Especially with today, I feel like today it’s just about making sure that as they move from this life to the next, they feel truly loved.”
Guzman described what goes through his mind on his last walk.
“This last walk is, it’s a sobering but very, very respectful moment, but at the end of the day, it’s just love,” Guzman said.
By presenting themselves voluntarily for death, young men take a step back.
“These men and women have tried their whole lives to be loved as I was loved,” Franke said. “Today was a way to respect their life and their body.”
Guzman added to that.
“Burying the dead is just one of the truest ways to honor people, to honor their lives, to honor what they have been through and then to love them,” Guzman said. .
Winkeler said it is through these conversations, they begin to understand their role in the ceremonies.
“It’s not a job, it’s not a club, it’s a ministry and so this conversation was about shaping what they thought it was going to be, into something far more important than they did. had never realized it, ”Winkeler said.
“It’s really about human dignity. It’s about the preciousness of every human life and these people, even though they died without parents, they are still loved,” Winkeler added.
Once the ceremony is over, the boys return to Rockhurst to unload and process what they just attended; to give love to someone he didn’t know and to someone who might not have had much love at the end of their life.
The Jackson County, Missouri Medical Examiner’s Office is updating a page on unclaimed bodies in hopes the public can help locate closest relatives or friends to claim the remains.
Cremated remains are placed so that if a family member or loved one later learns of the person’s death, they can be collected and returned.
If you think you have any information or have questions about the people in this story, contact the reporter at [email protected]
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