September 2, 2014 — For the past 12 years, students in the pallbearer ministry at Saint Ignatius High School in Cleveland have attended funerals for the forgotten, walking with those who have no one else to accompany them to their final resting place. Since the Saint Joseph of Arimathea Pallbearer Ministry was founded in 2002, more than 400 juniors and seniors have served as casket bearers at local funerals for deceased who were homeless, financially insecure or simply didn’t have anyone to give them a dignified burial.
“The mission of the pallbearer ministry is to try and practice the works of mercy, to bring our faith to the streets of Cleveland,” said Jim Skerl, a theology teacher at Saint Ignatius High and the founder of the ministry.
It’s the largest student organization at the school, and members have been present at about 1,450 funerals. “Each funeral is different, which is an interesting reminder that each person we carry is an individual,” said Skerl.
Saint Ignatius High School students in the Saint Joseph of Arimathea Pallbearers Ministry lead a funeral for a local resident in Cleveland. (Keith Mokris)
The program is making a positive impact on the community. Skerl said they have received lots of feedback from families after funerals that say their faith in young people has been restored. “When they see our young men dressed in sport coats and ties with their hair groomed and their shoes shined, it’s a visible sign of presence. Many people have said that it restored their faith in the future generation,” Skerl said.
Sean McCann, a 2014 graduate of Saint Ignatius who was active in the ministry, recalled a funeral he served for a Chinese man. “They spoke Chinese and they were a very tightly knit community. So it was very cool for us to transcend language and cultural barriers and serve those people in their time of mourning.”
“Our students serve all year round … they serve in the summer and over Christmas and Easter breaks,” Skerl said, “and so our students really realize faith is supposed to be lived 24/7.”
Listen to Jim Skerl and Sean McCann talk about the pallbearer ministry on John Hockenberry's "The Take Away" on WGBH radio: