Student Pallbearers, Performing a Service
SCOTT SIMON, host:
And you're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.
Several of the students at St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland are performing a unique form of community service. They're helping to put people to rest. Students at the school are members of St. Joseph of Arimathea Pallbearer Society. Dan Sklenka is an 11th-grader at St. Ignatius, and he joins us from his home.
Mr. Sklenka, thanks very much for being with us.
Mr. DAN SKLENKA: (Student, St. Ignatius High School): Thank you for having me.
SIMON: And you're a pallbearer at the funerals of a lot of people who are strangers to you.
Mr. SKLENKA: Yes, that's right. We have just about 200 students who volunteer freely of their time to attend funerals for the poor and destitute of our city.
SIMON: So these are people who don't have families to be there for them.
Mr. SKLENKA: No. Either they don't have any surviving family members, or the ones that are there are very few in number, or just too sickly or elderly to carry them to their resting place.
SIMON: Yeah. What are these funerals like? What are some of your memories.
Mr. SKLENKA: My very first funeral, there were only two family members surviving. Both were in wheelchairs, a daughter and granddaughter. We went to the funeral home, prayed in front of the casket, carried the lady to the hearse, attended the funeral mass, and after that to the cemetery, and we laid her to rest there.
SIMON: How did this begin, Mr. Sklenka? Do you know?
Mr. SKLENKA: The society moderator, Mr. Jim Skerl, started this four years ago. They had two funerals then, and as of today, we're up to 71 funerals. Burying the dead is one of the Seven Corporal Works of Mercy in the Catholic Church. And our school really revolves around doing service in the community. And this was one of things that we hadn't incorporated yet. So Mr. Skerl decided, why not fulfill all Seven Corporal Works of Mercy and bury the dead?
SIMON: Could we have a refresher on all those Corporal Works of Mercy?
Mr. SKLENKA: We have feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, provide home for the homeless, care for the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead.
SIMON: Do you learn things about the people you help put to rest?
Mr. SKLENKA: We do. The most recent one I did, we learned that this lady had been a very avid participant in her church choir. She sang every Christmas, Oh Holy Night. And we really just learned a lot about these peoples' stories, of their lives. This one, her husband left her after her son was born. A past one, the lady had served during World War Two. You really get to learn these peoples' stories and everything that they leave behind.
SIMON: Mr. Sklenka, thank you very much.
Mr. SKLENKA: Thank you very much, Mr. Simon.
SIMON: And very good talking to you.
Mr. SKLENKA: Nice talking to you too, sir.
Dan Sklenka is a member of the St. Joseph of Arimathea Pallbearer Society at St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland.
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