November 11, 2015 — Upperclassmen at the University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy are volunteering to serve as pallbearers at the funerals of homeless veterans who otherwise would have been buried alone. The program began last month when six U of D Jesuit seniors served as pallbearers for the funerals of three veterans at the Great Lakes National Cemetery in Holly, Michigan.
The students’ service ensures that these men and women who served their country in military service receive the honor and dignity they deserve at death. A 2014 report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development found there were about 50,000 homeless veterans in America.
“The men we honored today put their lives on the line for our country and now they deserve our dignity and service in return,” said senior Leonard Froehlich. “There is no better way to pay our respects than by being pallbearers. We honor these service members by being with them in their last moments on earth, and that in itself is a privilege.”
The idea for a student-led pallbearer program originated from informal student discussions about ways the school’s student service team could better serve the community, especially the marginalized.
“The pallbearer program at U of D Jesuit says a lot about the school and the young men who attend there,” said Terry Desmond '59, President, A.J. Desmond & Sons Funeral Homes. “Their service to the less fortunate honors the dignity of individuals who are mostly out-of-the-view of our society.”
Previously, U of D Jesuit students travelled to Saint Ignatius High School in Cleveland, which runs a similar program, to gather information and to train. Students received additional training from A.J. Desmond & Sons Funeral Directors.
U of D Jesuit’s Ignatian Service Corps, which leads the pallbearer program, partners with more than 50 organizations for service opportunities allowing students to become “Men for Others,” a critical tenet of a classic Jesuit education.
Before departing for a funeral, the student pallbearers gather to pray for the deceased. They travel by student carpool, take part in the funeral procession, carry the casket to the grave and share in the prayers of committal. After returning to school, students reflect prayerfully on their experience.
“Community service by our students is part of our school’s DNA and a hallmark of a Jesuit education,” said U of D Jesuit president Father Karl Kiser, SJ. “Preserving the dignity of the human soul is important to all human beings, regardless of a person’s situation at death.” [Sources: U of D Jesuit, TODAY, CNN]