A group of high school students in Boston have found a way to practice the Seventh Corporal Work of Mercy: to bury the dead. And there is no one, really, to thank them for their service.
Roxbury Latin boys’ school assistant headmaster, Mike Pojman, was inspired by a program at his alma mater, St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland, to organize students to serve as pallbearers at the funerals of people who remained unclaimed by any kin. Without the boys at Roxbury Latin, these deceased would have no one to accompany them on their final journey. Many are buried in unmarked graves in a city cemetery.
Pojman turned to a local funeral home, Lawler and Crosby, for help and advice. Little did he know it is one of only a few funeral homes in the state that steps in to help with these kind of burials, National Public Radio reported.
When there are no family members or volunteers available, it’s just [Robert] Lawler by himself, saying a prayer at graveside. After doing this for 42 years, he appreciates the effect it has on people like 17-year-old Roxbury Latin senior Noah Piou. Today’s ceremony for Nicholas Miller was the first funeral he’s attended.
“That’s my first real moment presented with some form of death before me, and I was kind of at a loss for words at the time,” he says. “I’ve never met Mr. Miller before, but even within that I kind of had a connection with him, and I could feel that.”
Miller died alone in September. No next of kin was found.
“To reflect on the fact that there are people, like this gentleman, who probably knew hundreds or thousands of people through his life, and at the end of it there’s nobody there — I think that gets to all of them,” Pojman says. “Some have said, ‘I just gotta make sure that never happens to me.'”
The students, dressed in jackets and ties, carry the plain wooden coffin and take part in a short memorial. They read together, as a group:
“Dear Lord, thank you for opening our hearts and minds to this corporal work of mercy. We are here to bear witness to the life and passing of Nicholas Miller.
“He died alone with no family to comfort him.
“But today we are his family; we are here as his sons.
“We are honored to stand together before him now, to commemorate his life and to remember him in death, as we commend his soul to his eternal rest.”
Though Roxbury Latin is not a Catholic school, it joins St. Ignatius and the University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy in carrying out the service.
After the brief graveside ceremony, in which each of the students read poetry or a Scripture verse and laid flowers, the young men from Roxbury Latin got back into their van and drove back to school in time for their next lesson. But the lessons learned doing this kind of service will likely stay with them throughout their lives.
“I know I’m going back, and I’m going to go to school and take another quiz,” says 18-year-old Brendan McInerney, “but all that work, you can get caught up in it. … When you kind of get out of that bubble that you can kind of stuck in, you get perspective on what’s really important in life.”